I had promised a few readers a while ago that I would put the first three chapters of Somali Sunrise up here on my blog as a teaser. So here it is, edited but not yet completely polished. Enjoy!
Crossfire: Somali Sunrise
By Niki Savage
Copyright 2015 by Niki Savage
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Niki Savage.
Nancy watched bubbles rising above her head as she rose slowly to the surface. A meter above, she could see the pink flippers of Peter Coleman, the owner of the yacht that had brought them there. He kicked gently to keep himself afloat, waiting for her.
She broke the surface of the water, and spat out her mouthpiece. “Wow, that was incredible,” she said, pulling her diving mask downwards and tucking it under her chin.
Peter turned to her, shaking the water from his shaggy blond hair. “I hate to say I told you so. Not many divers know about this reef.”
Nancy smiled, and turned to swim towards the ladder hanging off the stern of the yacht. “I agree, that reef we dived yesterday felt a little crowded.”
Peter followed, kicking easily to keep up with her. “There’s another reef further up the channel. I’ll take you there tomorrow.”
Nancy handed her diving goggles and scuba tank to a crew member’s waiting hand, and allowed him to help her onboard. Once on deck, she shook her shoulder length blonde hair vigorously to rid the strands of water.
She sensed Peter behind her, and felt him unzipping her wetsuit. She started stripping off her wetsuit as she turned around to return the favor. But the expression on Peter’s face froze her hand in midair.
Nancy felt as if the air around her body had turned to treacle as she fought to turn back, to see what had provoked such an expression of horror on Peter’s face.
A gasp flew from her lips when she saw her six-year-old son, Daniel, his little face pinched into an expression of extreme distress. The cause of his distress was the black barrel of a big pistol pressed against his temple. Peter must have sensed the muscles in her legs tensing for action, because he wrapped a brawny arm around her waist, and lifted her off the deck, preventing her from rushing towards her son.
“Shh Nancy,” he whispered. “Be very still.”
She tried to bring her rapid breathing under control as her gaze focused on the face of the man who held the gun to her child’s head. He was tall and slender, with terrible scars on the left side of his face and neck. He wore ill-fitting clothes one might expect to see on a homeless person, and was too dark to be Mozambican. She noticed several missing teeth as he grinned triumphantly at her, but the rigid scar tissue on his left cheek didn’t allow much movement of his skin, giving him a lopsided appearance. “That would be most unwise,” he said, shaking his head from side to side. “Your friend is giving you good advice.”
Now Nancy looked beyond his ragtag appearance, and saw his dark eyes glittering shrewdly. This man was in charge, she realized, and fought her urge to attack him. From her days on the road as a trauma doctor, she had come face to face with enough killers to know that this man wouldn’t hesitate to make good on his threat.
She glanced at the other people on the deck. Apart from the two crewmembers who worked for Peter, she saw at least eight members of the man’s party. Some had covered the lower half of their faces with scarves, but all had the same gangly build, and the same ragged and ill-fitting clothing that their leader wore. All had automatic weapons, held at the ready, just in case threatening Daniel’s life didn’t have the desired effect.
Peter spoke behind her, assuming command. “What do you want from us?”
“I’m taking command of this yacht. My men will lock each of you in your cabins for the rest of the voyage, and then you will be held hostage until your families pay the ransom we demand.” His English was good, but he had an accent Nancy couldn’t quite place.
“What’s our destination?” she asked, trying to moisten her lips.
The man laughed. “The port of Eyl in Somalia.”
Nancy swallowed hard at the sight of Daniel’s distressed face. How could she persuade this man to give her son back to her?
Two armed men prodded the two crewmen in the direction of their cabins, leaving Peter and Nancy on deck, watching the man who held Daniel hostage.
Nancy stared at her son, trying to reassure him without speaking, and apologizing at the same time for placing him in harm’s way.
Then it was Peter’s turn. Nancy watched with growing alarm as Peter walked ahead of his captors to his cabin. She felt vulnerable without his secure presence next to her, and without him holding her back, she had to fight her impulse to run to her son and crush him in her embrace.
But Daniel took matters into his own hands, taking advantage of a moment of inattention from his aggressor to wrench free and flee towards her. Nancy scooped him up in her arms, cradling him protectively as he squirmed, trying to get closer to her.
But she had just a few seconds before he was ripped from her arms again. She tried to grab him back, but the man had already lifted him high, out of her reach. Danny screamed, kicking at the face of the man who held him, catching him a glancing blow on his already scarred cheek.
The man swore in an unknown language, and flung Danny towards the hard deck. The boy landed with a thud, and lay still for a few seconds, clearly winded. Nancy took a step in his direction, but stopped in her tracks when a bullet slammed into the deck just a few inches in front of her right foot. She screamed in despair, torn between helping her child and trying to stay alive.
Danny slowly pushed himself to his feet. He wiped his tears away in a childish gesture, but when he looked at her, his green eyes were wise beyond his years. “I’m okay, Mommy. Don’t worry.”
And at that moment, in his eyes, she saw Karl. “Thank you, Danny.” She looked at their kidnapper, who stood with his weapon ready to kill or maim. Drawing strength from her son, she straightened up. “We’ll cooperate. Please don’t hurt us.”
The man flashed his lopsided grin. “We don’t want to kill you, but if you force us, we will wound you, and here in Africa a bullet wound can turn bad very quickly.”
“I’m a doctor,” Nancy said. “It would be to your advantage to keep me healthy, so that I can help the others, and any of your men, if necessary.”
He seemed to consider that for a few moments. “You’re right. But to make sure you obey, I will keep your son with me.”
“No!” Nancy shouted without thinking, but then she took a deep breath and calmed herself. “It would be to your advantage to keep me healthy and happy, if you want my cooperation.”
“Okay, the boy stays with you, but if you give me any trouble, I will take him from you and drag him behind the yacht, understand?”
Nancy nodded, nauseated by the image created by the pirate’s words.
Danny ran towards her, and hugged her legs tight. She stroked his copper red hair. “Thank you for being so brave, sweetheart,” she said softly. “Everything will be okay now.” But she knew it was a lie. They were in trouble, deep trouble. She reached up and fingered the little silver cylinder that hung from a fine chain around her neck. As always she drew strength from the gesture, and straightened her back as she looked at her captor. “Can we go to our cabin, please?”
The man nodded, and gestured with the barrel of his weapon.
Nancy picked Danny up and hugged him to her as she headed for their cabin, uncomfortably aware of the gun barrel pointing at her spine.
* * * *
Nancy opened her eyes slowly. Above her she saw the light fitted to the low ceiling of the cabin. She focused on the light, trying not to remember the events of the previous afternoon.
But the memories forced themselves into her consciousness, and she sat up quickly, taking deep breaths, fighting her anxiety. And she had reason to be anxious. Though nobody had come to their cabin during the night, she had heard angry shouts at odd intervals, and through the thin cabin walls, had heard the unmistakable sound of fists on flesh, and voices screaming, and objects crashing to the floor.
It had sent chills down her spine as her imagination supplied her with horrible images to match the sounds. She had remained sleepless for most of the night, cradling Danny’s sleeping body in her arms, wishing that she had left him behind with her aunt, who had been more than willing to look after him for two weeks. But somehow returning to Mozambique with her copper haired child had felt right.
In her silly fantasy world she had imagined running into Karl on one of the many beaches, though she had no reason to expect that he would return to Mozambique. Or that he was even still alive. Perhaps her precious little boy was all that remained of the man she had loved. And the thought brought tears to her eyes, just like so many times before.
Danny stirred, and lifted a sleep tousled head. “Mommy, why are you crying?”
She blinked her tears away before turning to him, forcing a bright smile. “Sometimes grownups get sad for no reason, baby. I’m just a sentimental fool.”
“What does senti…mental mean?”
She smiled again. “Well, like crying about sad movies, and sad books. Lately I’m very sentimental.”
He hugged her tight. “I don’t want to be sentim…mental, ever.”
She hugged him back. “Don’t worry, baby. You’re strong and brave, just like your daddy.”
He frowned. “Where’s my daddy?”
Nancy took a deep breath as she tried to negotiate the minefield she had created for herself. “Your daddy had to go away for a very long time, to save the world.”
“Like a superhero?”
“Mmm, yes, a bit like a superhero.”
“But when will he come back?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head hopelessly. “He’ll come when the time is right.”
She wondered when the time would be right to destroy the fantasy she had created in her son’s mind. It was a story she had fabricated after he had returned from preschool one day and asked, “Why don’t I have a daddy?”
She had tried to create a favorable image of Karl for her son, and it had evolved into a superhero story. And even though in the last year she had tried to tone it down, he refused to let go of the fantasy. It had become part of his identity.
“Is Daddy like Superman?” His green eyes glowed with excitement. “Or Ironman? Ooh, that would be so cool. What’s he like, mommy.”
She sighed, choosing her words carefully. Danny watched far too many comics. How could she tell him that his father is…was…a ruthless mass murderer? “Um, he’s more like GI Joe, my darling.”
“Yes, keeping the world safe from baddies,” Danny said with a triumphant smile. “I love my daddy.”
Nancy forced a tight smile. She should have told her son from the start that his daddy died before he was born. Why had she encouraged the fantasy? But she knew why. In her mind she had her own fantasy, where Karl returned to tell her that he had given up his life of murder and mayhem to settle down with her. Perhaps that’s why she couldn’t tell Danny that his father was dead, because then her hope would be gone too.
Danny prodded her arm. “Mommy, are those men outside baddies?”
She nodded. “They’re very bad people, the baddest ever. But we must listen to what they say, so that they don’t hurt us.”
She gathered him in her arms, knowing that he wanted to be a big boy for her but he felt just like a baby in her arms. She held him tight, knowing in that instant that she would do anything to protect him.
“Mommy! You’re squashing me.”
She let go, but not before giving him a tickle. “I can’t help it. I love you so much I want to eat you up, a little bit at a time.”
He giggled. “Starting with my toes?”
“Yes, and specifically with this foot.” She reached for his right foot, and he scampered across the bed with a squeal of laughter.
But she didn’t chase after him like she normally did. A hard crash rattled the cabin walls, and they both froze, listening. Danny hurried back to her, and the fear was back in his eyes. Nancy felt dread crawling up her spine. What was happening?
They heard another crash, and hard footsteps on the deck above them. And then Nancy heard the voice of the man with the scarred face, and another voice that spoke with authority. They appeared to be having a heated discussion.
She listened with a dry mouth, keeping a protective hand on Danny’s shoulder. He looked up at her. “Mommy?”
“Shhh sweetheart, be very quiet.”
The voices above rose to a crescendo and Nancy listened with growing trepidation. Though she couldn’t understand the words, which sounded like Arabic to her, she could hear that the man with the scarred face was losing ground. His replies became shorter and shorter, while the other man dominated the conversation.
Then the voices grew quiet, but a minute later she heard hard footsteps outside their door, and then it burst open. Nancy threw herself over Danny, pushing him into the mattress to protect him from whatever violence might come through the door.
But instead a hard voice said, “Get up,” as the barrel of a weapon prodded her spine painfully.
She raised herself off Danny, relieved to see he had not suffered any damage, and pushed herself to her feet. The man with the automatic weapon had the bottom half of his face covered, but from his clothes she recognized him as one of the men she had seen on deck the day before.
Though she couldn’t see the expression on his face, his pupils were dilated, and his eyes glittered madly. She could see he was high on some kind of amphetamine, and worried about his forefinger poised on the trigger of what looked like an AK47. One slip and a barrage of bullets would cut her and Danny in half. He gestured with the barrel of the weapon. “You come to the deck. Bring passports.”
She grabbed their passports from her handbag, and then reached a hand to Danny. “Come sweetheart. Let’s go with this man.”
Danny must have heard the urgency in her voice, because he climbed off the bed and took her hand. “Let’s go, Mommy.”
~ . ~
On the deck the two crewmen and Peter Coleman already waited, looking exhausted and bruised. Clearly they had not had a restful night. Peter glanced at her, concern in his eyes, and Nancy felt guilty that her face was unblemished while he had bruises on his face. But he had bruised knuckles too, and Nancy wondered which poor soul on board had ended up on the wrong side of those mighty fists.
She led Danny to stand beside Peter, and only then did she look at the stranger standing beside the scarred man. He was better dressed than the others, and had a more muscular build, no doubt the result of a better diet. Everything about him said that he was the man in charge. The cause of the hard crash earlier also became clear. A vessel bigger than the yacht had taken the yacht in tow, its powerful engines churning the sea to white foam as the thick towrope strained between the two vessels.
The stranger didn’t carry a machine gun, but had a handgun jammed into the belt of his trousers. He stared at Nancy with dark eyes, and though she showed no reaction on the outside, her insides chilled. This man was bad news. She had scored a small victory over Scarface the day before, but this man was made of different material. She could see there would be no negotiating with him.
He looked at Scarface. “Get passports,” he instructed.
Scarface nodded at one of his men who came forward and gathered everyone’s passports. Nancy kept Danny’s hand in hers, terrified for him more than for herself. But he seemed to be holding up, looking at the pirates with calm eyes.
The man in charge flicked through the passports. Then he looked up. “My name is Mahmud, but you can call me Captain. Okay?”
Nancy nodded grudgingly along with the others, but something in her expression must have attracted his attention. He looked through the passports until he found hers. Then he looked up. “Doctor Nancy Kendall, travelling with her son, Danny.”
A cold trickle of dread dribbled down her spine, but Nancy nodded without speaking, trying not to show her fear.
Captain Mahmud strode closer and peered at her face. “There’s something wrong here.”
She kept her eyes focused on the deck, silently praying that he’ll lose interest.
He stepped back again, and looked at Peter and the two crewmembers. “Everyone here has been beaten, except this one.” He turned to Scarface. “Why?”
Scarface tried to save face. “She’s doctor. She can help.”
Mahmud laughed. “You fool. She’s doctor, but he is too,” he said, pointing at Peter. “And we don’t need their help. They are our prisoners. And we do to our prisoners exactly what we want.”
And without a further word he backhanded Nancy, mashing her lower lip against her teeth, sending her flying backwards. She landed awkwardly, and something hard connected the back of her head.
“Get up,” she heard Mahmud scream, and footsteps approached her position.
Nancy struggled to her feet, her senses swimming, but Mahmud never reached her.
With a growl Peter charged him, smashing a fist into the pirate’s face before his charge carried them both to the ground.
They were a blur of fighting bodies, and it was obvious to Nancy that Peter was winning the fight. But then a shot rang out, and everybody froze, and Nancy screamed when she saw that Scarface held Danny suspended above the rail. The little boy screamed in fear, squirming like a fish on the end of a hook, staring in terror at the rushing water far below him.
Peter rose to his feet, dread on his face. One of the pirates punished him with a rifle butt to his kidneys, but he remained standing.
Mahmud took a little longer to get up, blood pouring from his mouth and nose.
Scarface shook Danny as he shouted, “I said if you don’t behave I will throw him in the sea. Must I do it, Boss?”
Mahmud shook his head. “No, bring him back here.”
Scarface shifted his grip, preparing to bring Danny back over the railing, but a second later he was grabbing at air as Danny slipped from his grasp and disappeared with a single thin cry.
Nancy screamed, feeling as if all the oxygen had been sucked from the air, but a second later a big shape barreled past her and Peter dived over the railing, going after Danny.
Nancy sank to the ground as chaos ensued around her, with Mahmud and Scarface screaming, and several of the pirates running to the railing to see if they could spot Peter or Danny. One of the crewmen ran to the stern of the yacht and threw two life preservers over the railing.
Mahmud grabbed his radio and screamed into the mouthpiece. A few seconds later the vessel in front of them shut off its engines, and in the sudden silence all Nancy could hear was a sharp keening cry. But she stopped when she realized the cry was coming from her bloodied mouth. She couldn’t get her legs to work. As much as she also wanted to run to the railing to look for her son, her body wouldn’t move.
Nothing these men could do to her now could be worse than the pain tearing her soul apart. If she ever met Karl again, how would she explain that she had put their son in harm’s way? She imagined his green eyes turning dark with sorrow for a child he had never known. And it was her fault, for keeping Danny away from his father.
Everybody ignored her as the towrope was detached and the crewmembers were instructed to turn the yacht around and search for Peter and Danny.
Under the threat of guns the two crewmembers soon had the yacht travelling back the direction they had come, and two of the pirates stood at the railing with binoculars, scanning the waves for signs of life.
Nancy lost interest. Too much time had passed already. Her son was gone, along with the brave man who had wanted to be a father for him, and a husband for her. She knew now that Peter had loved her more than life itself, and had thought nothing of sacrificing himself to try to save her son. But a tiny sliver of hope remained alive in her.
Karl had fallen overboard and had survived for two days in the ocean before washing out on the beach. If Peter had reached Danny in time, and then swam for the life preservers, survival was possible. But Danny was so small, she argued with herself. He could swim, but would he have remained afloat long enough for Peter to find him?
The tears came, pouring down her face and mingling with the blood on her chin. She tried to wipe the fluid away with her hands, but they shook so badly that all she managed to do was make the mess worse.
She gave up, and dropped her face into her hands, crying Danny’s name over and over.
~ . ~
A long time later, a wet little hand touched her shoulder. “Mommy?”
She looked up. It was Danny, wet and pale, but alive. His eyes were red, both from crying and the salty seawater, but he wasn’t crying anymore. He wrapped his little arms around her neck and climbed onto her lap. “I’m okay, Mommy, don’t cry.”
And Nancy knew it wasn’t a dream, because beyond Danny she could see a sodden Peter on the deck, lying unmoving as three of the pirates kicked him mercilessly. That was his reward for saving her child’s life, to be beaten like an animal. Hatred rose in her chest, and if hate alone could have killed these men, they would all have dropped dead in an instant. But instead she had to watch helplessly as they hurt Peter, even though he could no longer feel it.
Eventually Mahmud called a halt, and the three men dragged Peter towards her. He was a big man, six foot four and well over two hundred and fifty pounds, and the strain showed on their faces. They dropped him in front of her, and turned him over so that he lay on his back. Both his cheekbones had been split, and blood poured from his ruined mouth. Almost immediately Nancy heard him beginning to choke as blood ran back down his throat. She quickly moved forward and turned him onto his side to open his airway. She wanted to scream and rage at the unfairness of it all, but held her tongue, afraid that Mahmud would lash out again.
Someone grabbed a fistful of her blonde hair, and dragged her to her feet. It was Mahmud, and he held his bloodied face close to hers as he hissed, “Disobedience will be punished immediately. Look at him. Where’s your strong man now?”
Nancy swallowed her hatred down. “We’ll be good, I promise.”
“Good.” He turned to Scarface. “Take them below.” He gestured towards the two crewmen. “And them too.”
Nancy and Danny were herded below with the crewmen, and allowed to return to their cabin. She saw as the men struggled past her half open door with Peter’s limp body, and went to the doorway to find Scarface outside. “Please,” she whispered. “Put him in here with us so I can take care of him.”
He shook his head. “No, he has been punished. He must suffer.”
“He could die, and then you won’t get any ransom for him.”
That gave him pause for a moment, and then he shouted something to the three men. They struggled back in his direction, and at his instruction, deposited Peter on one of the twin beds in the cabin. Nancy felt a small sense of elation at her victory. At least now she could help Peter instead of wondering whether he was dead or alive.
As soon as the door closed behind Scarface, who had given her a last menacing frown to remind her to behave, Nancy changed Danny into dry clothes, rubbing his frozen skin briskly with the towel. Then she sent him to play in the bathroom with some of his toys. To his credit, he didn’t argue, even though the bathroom was small and cramped.
A minute later she heard him racing his toy cars along the smooth floor of the shower. Children were far more resilient than adults, she thought.
She focused on Peter, who still lay unmoving, rapidly soaking the mattress with his wet clothes. Quickly she stripped his clothing off, leaving him only with his undershorts. Then she pushed the other bed closer, and expertly rolled him onto it, giving him the benefit of the dry mattress. She covered him with the sheets before reaching under the covers and pulling off his damp undershorts.
Though she and Peter had known each other for many years, their relationship had never become physical. Somehow, after Karl, she just couldn’t give herself to another man. Bringing Danny along on the diving trip had been just another way of ensuring that Peter wouldn’t be sharing her cabin. And yet here he was, in her cabin. The irony wasn’t lost on her.
She pulled her medical bag from one of the small closets, and started examining Peter.
Thirty minutes later she sat on the damp twin bed and sighed deeply, feeling a little desperate. The merciless kicks those pirates had rained upon Peter’s muscular physique appeared to have done little damage. His ribs were bruised, but not broken, and though he had a lot of bruises, they weren’t life threatening.
But that was where the good news ended. His face had suffered some damage, and she had stitched the deep gashes on his cheekbones and forehead. Miraculously his nose had remained unbroken, allowing him unimpeded breathing. But she suspected that Peter had a bad concussion, the extent of which she couldn’t be sure of until a few more hours have passed, or he regained consciousness. She needed a cat scan of Peter’s brain, and he probably required surgery, but none of that was possible in the middle of the ocean.
Danny came from the bathroom. “Is Uncle Peter going to be okay, mommy?” His little face expressed concern for the man he had known his whole life.
Nancy tried to smile. “I think so. We have to wait for him to wake up, just to be sure.”
Danny climbed onto Peter’s bed and snuggled up beside him. “I’ll stay here with him, and call you when he wakes up.”
Despite the circumstances Nancy smiled when she saw the love in Danny’s eyes. Her son loved this big blond bear of a man, and why wouldn’t he? Peter was a wonderful man, with a soft heart that belied the strength of his physique. His patients adored him, both for his kind heart, and his ruggedly handsome looks. She remembered Peter holding Danny when he was just days old, and the sight of her precious son cradled in those big hands had brought tears to her eyes, and right there she had asked Peter to be Danny’s godfather, an honor he took seriously, becoming a substitute father to her son. Peter had never asked her about Danny’s father, and for that she had been grateful, knowing that he didn’t judge her.
But Peter wanted more than that, and had told her so, more than once. Their friendship had changed to a strong relationship more than a year ago, and Nancy knew that her colleagues fully expected that she would marry Peter eventually. A match made in heaven, they called it, speculating what beautiful children she and Peter would produce with their blonde good looks.
But now tears filled her eyes as she stared at his bruised face, and the seriousness of their plight came to sit in her stomach like a cold stone. Life was short, and there was no guarantee that they would get out of this situation alive.
And right there she made her decision. Why not Peter? What was she holding out for? Karl wasn’t coming back for her. He had probably forgotten her the second that black helicopter carried him far away over the ocean, back to his life of violence and killing. Peter loved her. He would never hurt her like Karl had hurt her. He was the kind of man she could grow old with, if they survived their immediate perils. As soon as he opened his eyes, she’ll tell him yes.
And when they arrive home, she’ll put on the engagement ring he had given her three months ago, when he had proposed marriage. He had insisted that she keep the ring, even though she had asked for time to think. Well, she was finished with thinking. This was the right thing to do, for her and for Danny.
* * * *
Due to the length of Peter’s unconsciousness, Nancy had been forced to put up a drip and catheterize him. Then she occupied her time with bathing and changing Danny and making sure he ate some of the fruit that was on a bowl on a small table in the cabin. She didn’t eat any of it, worrying about their food supply, seeing as the pirates have shown no inclination to feed them. But they had some bottled water in the cabin, and in her medical pack she had some electrolyte replacement powders as well as a few chocolate bars and energy bars. Whether that would keep a six year old satisfied, only time would tell.
It was nearly lunchtime when Peter moaned, and opened sluggish eyes. Nancy had been sitting next to his bed, and reached out to touch his shoulder. “I’m here, Peter,” she whispered.
He turned his head and focused on her. “Nancy?”
“How do you feel? Can you see alright?”
“Everything’s a bit blurry,” he whispered, blinking his eyes.
“You’ve suffered a head injury.”
Nancy went ice cold. Peter not remembering what happened was another bad sign, and coupled with his hours of unconsciousness didn’t bode well for a good outcome. Telling him now about the pirates and what had happened would raise his stress levels, along with his blood pressure, which was the last thing she wanted. So she decided to lie.
“You fell, darling. On the deck. It happened so fast, and you hit your head on the railing. We’re on our way back to port, so you can get to a hospital. Just relax.”
“And I’m here, in your cabin, in your bed?”
“Because I’ve decided, Peter. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I want to be with you. I love you, and I want to marry you.”
“I can hardly believe it,” he whispered. “Why now?”
“Because I nearly lost you today, and it scared the hell out of me. I realized how much I love you.”
“I love you too,” he said before sighing deeply. “But I’m so incredibly tired, and I have a terrible headache. Can I save the jumping for joy for later?”
Danny came storming into the room. “Uncle Peter! You’re awake.”
Peter summoned a smile, even though it had to hurt, and stretched a hand out to the boy. “Hey little man. Are you looking after your mommy?”
Danny crawled all the way up the bed on all fours and snuggled under Peter’s arm. “Yes, I am. But you saved me. I was so scared, and the waves were so big, but you grabbed me. Thank you.”
Peter frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Nancy drowned out Danny’s explanation by saying. “He fell overboard, and you went after him. You saved him, and then when you came back onboard you slipped and fell.” She winked at Danny, willing him to play along. Luckily the child trusted her enough to obey.
“You mean I did the bravest thing ever and I can’t remember it?”
Nancy realized he was trying to be his usual self, for Danny’s sake.
Danny giggled. “Yes, you’re a superhero, even if you can’t remember it. Is it sore?”
“My head hurts a little bit,” Peter said with a grimace. “And I feel as if a horde of donkeys have run all over me, but I’ll survive.”
Nancy took Danny by the arm. “If you look in Mommy’s handbag, there’s a chocolate treat there for you.”
He jumped up. “Thanks Mommy!”
“And then you can play with your cars again, and let mommy and Uncle Peter talk for a little bit.”
“Yes Mommy.” He found her handbag and after grabbing his treat, disappeared into the bathroom to play with his toys.
When they were alone again, Peter looked at her. “You realize I’m a doctor too?”
“What are you hiding from me?”
Nancy suppressed a sob. “I’m trying to keep you comfortable, Peter. Your head injury is serious. You’ve been unconscious for hours, and your pupil sizes are unequal. Your temperature is up, and your face is flushed, and your heart rate has dropped below sixty. Somewhere in your brain you’re bleeding, causing intracranial pressure.”
“What are you hiding from me?” he asked again.
“I don’t think we’ll make it to port in time.” She tried her best to remain calm, but couldn’t help the tears spilling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry.”
He reached for her and she lay down beside him, resting her head on his chest.
“I want to remember you just like this, sleeping in my arms,” he whispered. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
“The crew will look after you.”
“Okay.” She clenched her fists, trying to remain calm.
About thirty minutes passed before he spoke again. “Remember… that little house… I mean church? With the red flowers… the red roses outside?”
“We should get married there.”
“Yes, we will.”
He didn’t say anything more, and she thought he may have gone to sleep again. But then she felt him tense. “Nancy?”
“Yes, my love.”
“I can’t see. Everything is dark. Don’t leave me.”
“I’m right here. I won’t leave you.” She wrapped her arms around his torso and hugged him. “I’m here. I’m here.”
But he didn’t speak again. For many minutes Nancy didn’t move, listening to the strong beat of his heart. But it was too slow, yet another symptom that his brain injury was severe. Perhaps if she pretended it wasn’t true, things could go back to normal.
Nearly twenty minutes passed before she sat up and fetched her pupil torch. She tried hard to steel herself, trying to assume the persona she normally reserved for giving bad news to families.
But when she examined Peter’s pupil reactions, the shock was too much. His right pupil was blown, which was the medical term to signify that it was completely dilated. Due to the increased pressure in Peter’s skull, most likely from brain tissue swelling, or from a bleed, some brain death had already occurred.
The other pupil still responded to light, but sluggishly. Peter was gone already, even though it could take several hours before his body followed. She could do nothing more for him. She was an excellent trauma surgeon, and if she could have transported him to a hospital in time, and into theatre, she could have saved him, but here in this godforsaken place, she was helpless. The only comfort she had was that he had not died alone, which was what would have happened if the pirates had taken him to his cabin, as they had originally intended.
After making Peter comfortable again, Nancy looked for Danny, and discovered that he had taken a pillow and blanket into the bathroom and made a bed for himself. Poor child, she thought. He was exhausted, and there was more horror to come. She left him there, fast asleep, and returned to Peter.
She was exhausted, and hungry, and emotionally she was completely spent. Her brain needed a respite from the tension, and her soul needed to recharge before she could grieve for Peter. She lay down beside him again, and snuggled her face into the hollow of his shoulder. It was a safe place, allowing her to experience his warmth and closeness without having to listen as his heart slowed even further, and his breathing became labored.
Just before sleep took her, she remembered lying like this with Karl on that first day when he had been so desperately ill, and had needed her body heat. She imagined the whisper of his breath against her face. Then there had been hope for recovery, and indeed Karl had made an excellent recovery. For Peter the fight was over, and now it was just a question of time, waiting for his body to die. And for her there was the horror of knowing that if he didn’t die by morning, she would have to give him a lethal dose of morphine, putting him down like an injured animal.
~ . ~
Nancy’s dreams were troubled and gruesome, and mostly involved Karl arriving on the yacht with fire in his eyes and a bloody knife in his grasp, and killing every pirate on board while Danny cheered him on. The dream was macabre and bizarre and she awoke feeling sick.
Peter was ominously quiet. She stilled the cry that rose to her lips, and pressed her ear to his chest. No breathing. No heartbeat. She checked his pupils. Both were blown, and unresponsive to light. He was dead.
She sat stunned for a few minutes, hate and grief flooding through her. Hate for the pirates who had killed Peter, and grief for the future that she and Peter would never have.
But she had to restore his dignity before the pirates came back. Already it was a blessing that the pirates had left them alone for most of the day. She had draped Peter’s wet shorts and shirt over a chair, and now discovered that they were dry, though slightly stiff from the saltwater. But they would have to do. Biting back her tears, she removed the catheter and the drip and dressed him again.
She would have to find a way to alert Scarface to take Peter out of there before Danny woke. He had suffered enough traumas for one day without discovering that his hero was dead.
After she had finished dressing Peter, she covered him with a sheet. As distasteful as the prospect was, she would have to call Scarface. She tried the door, and was surprised to find it unlocked.
Gingerly she stepped into the narrow passage. “Hello,” she called softly.
She heard the shuffle of feet, and saw a pair of feet descending the steps before materializing into one of the pirates. He didn’t look friendly.
She swallowed hard before she said, “Please tell your boss that the big man is dead. Tell him Peter is dead.”
She saw the whites of his eyes flash for a second, and realized that the man was deathly afraid of delivering the news.
He grabbed her by the arm, and urged her towards the stairs. “No, you tell. You tell.”
She had little choice, and soon found herself on deck, face to face with Scarface and Mahmud.
The man pointed at her and repeated, “You tell.”
One side of Scarface’s mouth turned up in a sneer. “What is it?”
“Peter is dead,” she said more calmly than she felt.
Mahmud’s eyes practically bulged from his head. “What? What you do? What you do?”
He grabbed her by the throat and started shaking her. Nancy couldn’t breathe. Her mouth stretched wide as stars and dark spots appeared in her vision. But an eternity later she found herself on the deck, coughing painfully.
Mahmud stood over her, clearly still furious. He grabbed her with a hard right hand and plucked her to her feet. “How did he die?”
Nancy coughed a few times before she could speak. “The men who kicked him hurt his brain. Bleeding in his brain killed him. He died while I was asleep.”
By now Scarface had gone below deck with three men. They reappeared, carrying Peter’s lifeless body. Now Nancy was glad that she had dressed him. It was already undignified how carelessly they carried him, without him being naked as well. But what distressed her more was Danny walking behind the men, rubbing sleepy eyes. She grabbed him as they passed her, and pressed his face against her thigh. “Don’t look, Danny. Keep your eyes on Mommy.”
“What’s wrong with Uncle Peter?”
She stared imploringly at Mahmud. “Please can I take my son below deck? He doesn’t need to see this.” She had a good idea what was going to happen next.
But Mahmud laughed unpleasantly. “Do you think I care about your son? Or what he sees? He stays, and so do you.”
He walked forward to examine Peter’s body. “It’s a pity. We could have asked a big ransom for him.” He looked up at her. “Now we will just have to ask double for you and your boy.”
He gave orders to four of the men in a language that Nancy didn’t understand, but the meaning soon became clear when they each took hold of one of Peter’s limbs and started carrying him to the railing. She bit her lip to stop from screaming. It’s just a body, she told herself. It wasn’t Peter anymore.
But she couldn’t bear the thought of him abandoned to the tides, almost certainly being eaten by sharks or one of the many predators in the sea. Those beloved hands had stroked her hair when she felt sad, and that strong body had held her close and comforted her after a hard day of disappointments. It wasn’t just another body. It was Peter, and he didn’t deserve this.
Just at the moment that they swung Peter over the rail, Danny broke from her grasp, and turned. The splash as Peter’s body hit the water was drowned out by Danny’s howl. He stormed to where Peter had disappeared over the railing, screaming uncontrollably. “Nooooo! Noooo! Mommeeeeeee!”
Nancy ran after him, desperate to get to him before one of the pirates did. But she was too late. Scarface lashed out and backhanded Danny so hard that he stopped in his tracks, and dropped to the deck in a boneless heap.
Nancy reached him a moment later, and scooped him up in her arms. “Does that make you feel like a big man, you fucking bastard! He’s a child. Can’t you tell the difference?”
To his credit, Scarface looked guilty for about two seconds, but when he noticed Mahmud’s eyes on him, he recovered his bravado. “Shut up, woman, or we throw him overboard too.”
Nancy retreated, clutching Danny to her chest. “No! I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” And the bile tasted bitter in her mouth as she swallowed her hatred and realized the hopelessness of their situation.
* * * *