Kate bumped along on the narrow ribbon of land with one wheel on the pavement, the other on gravel berm. Only inches separated her right tires from the steep drop-off to the marsh below. With her phone in her pocket, she couldn't very well call for help. Kate laid on the horn and flashed her angriest expression toward the van's tinted glass windows. But neither enticed the other driver to speed up or slow down. Gripping the steering wheel with both hands, Kate had no time to argue with someone with a death wish. With the van exactly next to her, it took everything she had to keep her car from careening down the embankment into the bay. And tonight, she was in no mood for a swim.
Ahead, she saw a bridge overpass that would narrow the berm to almost nothing. Closer still was an access road to a fishing pier beneath the bridge, and according to a weather-beaten sign, a nameless road to a marina which may or may not still be in business. Growing up in Florida close to the Gulf, Kate knew both roads would be dead-ends. With daylight fading, neither would provide a getaway route from a road-raged driver out for blood.
Kate sucked in a breath and turned the wheel to the left to gain a firmer hold on the pavement. She came within a hair of the van's right fender. But instead of allowing her back on to the highway, the van driver yanked the wheel to the right and banged the Mustang's door. She rammed on the brakes as her right tire dropped over the embankment in a spray of gravel and dirt. Kate fought to maintain control, and by sheer grace, pulled the wheel back to the berm. The van sped past her, but as it did, Kate saw the passenger window lower. Simultaneously, she heard a blast of gunfire and felt an explosion of shattering glass hit the back of her head.
Any notions that this was simply road rage vanished as warm blood trickled down her neck and her left ear throbbed from the percussion. Her mouth went dry; her stomach tightened, and her vision clouded with tears, but the nightmare was far from over. Fifty feet ahead, the crazy driver rammed on his brakes and swung his vehicle across the right-hand lane. Kate had three choices: a head-on collision with oncoming traffic; the access road to the fishing pier or the dead-end to the marina. Some choice. But with a gun barrel protruding from the van's window, Kate accelerated and turned down the marina road in a squeal of tires.
It's funny what a person thinks about in a life-or-death situation. She imagined a speedboat waiting at the end of the dock to whisk her to safety. Perhaps she was remembering an old James Bond movie in which no harm ever comes to the good guys. But as Kate reached the end of the road she saw a steel boathouse, a small office building, and rows upon rows of slips filled with pleasure crafts. Directly in her path lay a concrete ramp where trailers could back up to load and unload boats.
But no speedboat to deliver her to Mrs Doyle's party on the beach.
Kate stopped at the ramp and threw her car into park. Luckily, the black van was nowhere in sight. Jumping out, she ran to the office, but it was locked with the shades drawn. Kate pounded on the door, but her efforts yielded only a flurry of seagulls from the roof. In fact there was no sign of human life in any direction she looked. With few options, Kate sprinted toward the expanse of tall grass behind the boathouse. Their waving, tasseled heads reminded her of pampas grass that grew behind her childhood home in Pensacola.
Too late she realized this wasn't a field of brush on terra firma, but acres and acres of sawgrass, whose appearance can deceive anyone who ventures forth without first testing the ground. Immediately, brackish water filled her brand new pair of shoes—the espadrilles with open toes and wedge heel she'd splurged on. When Kate tried lifting her right foot, she heard a horrible sucking sound as her foot pulled free from the shoe. Feeling both foolish and uncomfortable, she bent down to find her shoe just as a pair of headlights turned into the marina. Considering the number of cars she'd seen since leaving the highway, Kate had a good idea who it might be.
With little alternative, she crouched down in eight inches of dark water that smelled like rotting vegetation and dead fish. But at least she wouldn't drown in eight inches of tidal surge. With water soaking her shorts and the hem of her shirt, Kate peeked between the fronds of sawgrass. The black paneled van slowed and then stopped behind her Mustang. When the driver's door opened, a yellow circle of light shone on the pavement. But it closed just as quickly, giving her no chance to identify her adversary.
'Kathryn! Come out so we can chat.' A man's voice called over the marsh. 'I know you can hear me, Kathryn. Or Kate, or Katrina, or whatever you're calling yourself these days. Not very creative. I would have expected better from Liam's little sister.' A malicious laugh punctuated the criticism.
She hunkered down, no longer worried about the fetid smell or her party clothes or her new shoes. If she had to sink up to her nose to keep from meeting the man from the van she would.
Suddenly, a high-powered spotlight illuminated the perimeter of the parking lot and then scanned the marsh on her right. But this cornered animal had no inclination to bolt like a white-tailed deer or a frightened raccoon.