As Tucker and May neared the end of the pier, Tucker made out an old fishing trawler in the still water. Peeling paint covered her sides and rotted fishing nets hung from the masts. She looked like a ghost ship half-hidden by the mist rising from the water. He also noticed something else rising from the water: black shark fins, making lazy circles around the trawler.
“They’re hungry tonight,” May quipped, pushing the revolver into Tucker’s back.
A flashlight beam from the trawler hit them in the face and blinded Tucker, as a man’s voice called out. “It’s past time to get underway.”
May pushed Tucker onto a narrow gangplank over the black water. “If you slip, you’re dinner,” she laughed, “one way or another.”
* * *
Hitting the water was a shock to Flo, and it took her a moment to acclimate herself to it as she plunged down. The arm was gone from around her neck, allowing her to push desperately toward the surface and air.
Flo gasped when her head escaped the water. She was at the opening of an underground channel from the house. Its passage was only wide enough for a rowboat to enter comfortably. Flo searched the black water for her captor, but saw nothing of him. “This must be the way they bring the girls into the White Palace,” she thought, treading water.
A pier leading out into the river loomed beside her. The pilings were too high and slippery to climb, but Flo could make her way from one to another in the water. She froze when she heard May’s voice above her. “Oh, Lawd,” she said to herself, when she heard Tucker’s voice also. Flo caught sight of the two when they crossed the gangplank, May at Tucker’s back, holding the gun.
“We need to get underway, now,” the burly man in the seaman’s cap said, as they came on board the trawler. “Otherwise, we’re gonna be traveling in daylight, and that’s dangerous.”
“Is Knuckles here yet with the black songbird?” May asked, pushing Tucker out of her way.
“No,” came a quick response and Tucker saw the man’s face in the flashlight for the first time. It was the trawler captain he’d seen talking to Mayor Bucknell. He would never forget the blind eye and scarred cheek.
“We can’t go until I get her,” May threatened. “She knows too much to leave her here alive.” Then she added, “Besides, she’s uppity, and that kind needs to be dealt with.”
“I don’t care about that,” the Captain responded. “My agreement with you is to travel by night, and I ain’t in the mood for taking chances. If they ain’t here in ten minutes, I’m casting off anyway.”
Flo saw a small dingy tied to the starboard of the trawler. It was her only chance to help Tucker. As she floated further into the river, she was at eye level with the black fins circling the trawler.
“Too late now,” she said to herself, slipping out of the silver dress. “I looks like a giant catfish filet in that thing.”
May paced back and forth on the deck, still holding the revolver and glancing nervously at the dark pier for any sight of Knuckles and Flo. “How much we gettin’ for the girls?” she asked the Captain, watching his face closely.
“Sixty thousand, delivered to Houston in good condition,” he replied, checking his watch. “Five minutes to go.”
“Take him below and tie him up,” the Captain ordered. Tucker was stunned when he saw the crew coming at him. They were midgets, dressed in pirate outfits. It could have been funny, except for the ice pick each one held in his hand and the demented look in their eyes.
Flo made it to the dingy and saw a rusted metal ladder up the side of the trawler. She had missed it in the darkness, but now she swam toward it. She grabbed the first rung and rested, catching her breath. Suddenly something brushed against her foot and then grabbed her ankle. She screamed, trying to pull herself free, but it was no use. She saw blood floating up around her.
Tucker heard the scream and although he was already bound, he lashed out with his feet and caught one of the pirates in the groin. His foot caught another one in the face, but not before an ice pick wielded by a third pirate found its mark.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2012 by Ron Van Sweringen