Authors: Sherryl Woods
“I’ll take leave time. God knows, I have plenty of it built up. I haven’t taken a vacation day off in years.”
“Have you officially reported your uncle as missing?”
Michael shook his head.
“How’d you get the evidence techs here, then?”
“Called in a favor,” he admitted. “Look, I’m going to make that call to try to get those rescue flights in the air in the morning. At least I can pinpoint where we picked up the boat. It’ll give them a starting point for the search. If Ken and Felipe get finished inside, ask them to wait for me.”
Molly nodded. She wanted to shadow him, but knew he would be infuriated by the overly protective gesture. She was surprised he’d tolerated her staying around as long as he had. Any second now she expected him to insist on her returning home. To which she intended to reply that he’d have to haul her out of his wagon kicking and screaming. It wouldn’t do a lot for his image as a cool, unemotional cop. She figured he’d grasp the improbability of shaking her loose fairly readily, once she’d explained her intentions to him.
In the meantime, since the search of the boat was pretty much complete, maybe she could sneak in a quick peek before Michael returned to forbid it. She actually made it as far as the aft deck before she heard footsteps behind her.
“Going someplace?” Michael inquired.
“Just taking a look around,” she admitted. “Your guys are almost through so I won’t be disturbing any evidence now, right?”
“And you honestly think you might spot something that two well-trained evidence technicians missed?”
“You never know.”
He gazed toward heaven with a familiar pleading expression, then sighed. “Fine. Look to your heart’s content. I’ll check with the guys, and then we’re out of here.”
Unfortunately, Michael’s smug attitude appeared to be justified. Molly couldn’t discover one single clue to explain Miguel’s disappearance. She did, however, hear an odd noise coming from beneath the stacks of life preservers in a built-in wooden storage bin. The faint but unmistakable ticking gave her goose bumps.
It was an unusual place to hide a clock, unless said clock was attached to a timing device. She’d seen enough movies to suspect that a crude bomb could be every bit as effective as one made by professional terrorists.
“Michael!” Molly shouted at the top of her lungs, all the while inching away from the sound.
Three policeman responded to the panic in her voice. She pointed toward the sound. “In there. A bomb, I think.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Michael said, just as Ken Marshall gently lifted out first one orange life vest, then another.
“Holy shit!” he murmured, his freckled complexion turning even more pale. “Let’s get the hell off this tub and get the bomb squad down here.”
The four of them clambered onto the dock. While the crisply efficient Marshall called for backup, Michael and Domínguez went up and down the slips to make sure there was no one in the nearby boats.
“I’m taking the boat out,” Michael announced.
“No way, man,” Domínguez countered, blocking his way. Shorter than Michael and built more squarely, he looked like a bulldog confronting a sleek, angry Doberman. “You’d have to be
to get anywhere near that bomb.”
“I’m not endangering other people,” Michael insisted stubbornly. “Who knows how powerful the damn thing is or when it’s set to go off.”
“Exactly my point,” the evidence tech said, trying to hold Michael back. “Let those crazies who like to live on the edge deal with this. That’s what the county pays them for.”
“It’s my responsibility,” Michael insisted, breaking free of the other policeman’s grasp.
When Molly started to follow him, Felipe Domínguez held her back, his determined grip on her arm almost painful. “You won’t stop him, and he sure as hell won’t want you with him.”
She knew it was useless to fight him, knew that he was right. Biting back a sob, she whispered, “But what if …”
The policeman cursed at the sound of the engine coming to life. “Jesus, O’Hara,” he muttered as the boat began to move.
“Michael!” Molly shouted over the steady throbbing of the engine. Bile rose in her throat and tears stung her eyes as the boat inched away from the dock.
Just then Ken Marshall returned, saw the moving boat and stared after it, openmouthed with shock. “Mother of God, Felipe, why didn’t you stop him?”
Felipe turned his anguished dark-eyed gaze on his colleague. “How? You know what O’Hara’s like when he gets something into his head. Did you want me to handcuff him?”
“If that’s what it took,” Ken snapped in exasperation.
“What time is it?” Molly asked with a dawning sense of horror and a sudden understanding of what the whole day’s events could have been about. Her hands were shaking so badly she couldn’t see the face of her watch.
“Just before midnight.”
“Eleven fifty-eight. Why?”
She lifted her hands helplessly. “I don’t know. Just a feeling I have.”
“That the bomb would be set for midnight,” Ken guessed.
She shook her head. “One minute after.”
Both men regarded her with puzzlement. “Why?”
“The date,” she said with certainty, her voice choked. “It’ll be the anniversary of the goddamned Cuban revolution.”
They could already hear sirens in the background as Ken kept his gaze riveted on the second hand of his watch. “Eleven fifty-nine,” he breathed. Then, “Midnight.”
The next sixty seconds were the longest of Molly’s life. Her heart was in her throat. The boat was a couple of hundred yards into the bay and still chugging toward open water.
“Twelve-oh-one,” Ken said.
Molly’s eyes burned from tears and from straining to see through the darkness. There was no mistaking the sudden spark of fire at the back of the boat, the puff of smoke.
“Oh, God,” she murmured, wanting to turn away, but unable to. Her gaze was fixed on the
with a sort of horrified fascination. Waiting. Waiting.
Just when she thought she could bear the terrible suspense not one second longer, flames shot into the air with an explosion of sound that slammed through the stillness and echoed in her head. One of the policemen, she had no idea which one, gathered her close, rocking her back and forth, even as a steady stream of curses spewed from his mouth.
“Michael?” she whispered, weeping. She looked up into Ken Marshall’s stricken face. “Where is he? Did he get off?”
“Even if he did …” Felipe began, before Ken shushed him.
Molly didn’t need to hear the rest of the words. Even if Michael had gotten off the boat, what were the odds that he was far enough away when the billowing flames danced across the water?
The music at Sundays by the Bay trailed off, replaced by screams and the pounding of footsteps as people raced from the restaurant toward the dock, awed by the fireball spreading across the water. Molly clung to Ken Marshall, her gaze riveted on the water, haphazard bits of old, familiar prayers whirling through her head.
“The Lord is my Shepherd …”
“Our Father who art in heaven …”
“Now I lay me down to sleep …”
No one prayer was ever finished before the next took its place, as if her brain was trying to find the one prayer that could magically make this come out right.
When she could finally tear her gaze away, she looked up into Ken Marshall’s brimming eyes, eyes that had no doubt seen their share of terrible scenes but nothing so horrifying as this. Domínguez was standing beside them, stone faced. Only his black-as-onyx eyes reflected the same kind of agony that churned inside Molly. She realized that in calling these two particular policemen earlier, Michael had not just called in favors, he had recruited friends. And these friends were every bit as shaken as she was.
“You have to send somebody after him,” she pleaded. “He could be out there, hurt.”
“It’s not safe, not yet,” Ken Marshall responded bluntly. “But we’ll find him, I promise you that. We’ve got paramedics and Coast Guard rescuers pouring in here.” His expression softened and his voice turned gentle and cajoling, the kind of voice people used on someone whose state of mind was rightly considered as fragile as spun glass. “Why don’t we go up to the restaurant and get you something to drink?”
Molly shook her head. “I’m not leaving here, not until Michael is back.”
She heard someone in the crowd offer to bring her coffee, and a moment later a warm cup was placed in her trembling hands. She automatically lifted it to her lips and took a sip of the strong black brew, though her eyes never left the water. Several people who’d apparently been drinking in the bar or having a late meal before going home climbed aboard their boats and turned high-beam searchlights onto the water to aid the rescuers.
Molly had understood Ken Marshall’s blunt words. She knew it wouldn’t be safe until the last of the flames had burned themselves out, but with every second that passed, her terror mounted. Images passed through her mind, each one more horrifying than the one before. Michael could have been killed outright in the explosion. Or thrown clear of the boat, unconscious, only to drown. Or while plunging into the sea, he could have been coated with the boat’s fuel, then turned into a human torch.
She moaned softly, tears coursing down her cheeks. There were so many things she’d never told Michael. She’d never admitted how much stronger she was, thanks to him. Nor how much he meant to her. Was it too late? In that one blinding instant had they been robbed of a future that had promised to be something incredibly special?
“Will you be okay?” Marshall asked, hunkering down beside her as she huddled in the chair Raúl had left for her. “I want to join the search.”
She glanced around. Domínguez had already gone, easing away without Molly’s even noticing. “Please, go,” she said. “Find him.”
As she waited for some word, Molly was distantly aware of the arrival of sleepy overnight crews from some of the local television stations. Thankfully none of the reporters seemed to be aware of her or her connection to the bombing story. She couldn’t have formed a coherent thought for them right now.
She glanced up into the worried face of Ted Ryan, a reporter from the morning paper. He’d been assigned to cover some of the same homicide cases that Molly had unofficially investigated. She’d been trying to save her own neck or that of a friend. Ted had provided a more objective eye. He was bright and ambitious, which meant he’d be dogging her with questions regardless of her fragile emotional state.
“Not now,” she said in the slim hope it would send him on to more forthcoming sources.
He slid his notebook and pen into the back pocket of his rumpled khaki pants, possibly to indicate that his questions were personal, rather than professional. Molly knew better than to trust him or any journalist on the trail of inside information.
“Was this some sort of film stunt?” he asked.
Though it was a natural enough question given her profession as an assistant in the Metro-Dade film office, Molly felt like laughing hysterically. If only that was all it had been, a crazy, dangerous movie stunt in which everyone lived except the fictional bad guy.
“No,” she said finally, shivering at the memory of Tío Miguel’s boat splintering into a million burning pieces with Michael most likely still aboard. “This was the real thing.”
Ted nodded as if he’d already guessed as much. “I heard a cop was on that boat right before it blew. Since you’re here and it wasn’t a movie stunt, I’m guessing the cop was O’Hara,” he said, his voice surprisingly subdued. His gaze strayed to the water as if he couldn’t quite bear to meet her eyes.
Molly saw no point in denying it. “Yes,” she whispered.
To her surprise, Ted’s expression registered genuine dismay. He squeezed her hand sympathetically. “I’m sorry. I know he and I are usually at odds, but I liked him. He was a great cop.”
The past tense infuriated her. “Is a great cop, dammit! He is not dead.”
Ted looked miserable. “God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it worse. Look, is there anything I can do for you?”
“Not unless you can get out there and find him for me.”
“I’ll go see if there’s any word yet,” he said, then scurried off as if he couldn’t wait to get away from her and the deeply personal pain she didn’t even try to hide. At least he hadn’t plagued her with questions about the explosion or what had led up to it. She supposed she should be grateful for that much consideration. And she knew that Ted would do nothing to betray her role in this story to his rivals. He was too much of a fierce competitor for that. So for the moment she could sit where she was, alone and anonymous, waiting for word.
It seemed like hours, though it was probably no more than a half hour or sixty minutes, before she finally heard a triumphant shout echo across the water. She stood on unsteady legs and made her way down the dock. Pushing her way through the crowd, she finally spotted a Coast Guard boat speeding toward shore. Paramedics, hauling a stretcher and carrying other critical equipment, rushed through the crowd. When they tried to get Molly to move aside, she stubbornly refused.
“It’s okay,” Felipe Domínguez told the paramedics, edging in beside her. He put a bracing arm around her waist and pulled her forward. “She was here with O’Hara.”
She looked into his troubled eyes. “They’ve found him, haven’t they?”
he said quietly. He moved his hand to her shoulder and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “They say he’s alive, but they have said no more than that, not to me, anyway.”
She glanced at the paramedics. “Did they radio in anything about his condition?”
At a nod from Felipe, the dark-haired, tanned paramedic who seemed to be in charge told her, “He’s got a nasty bump on the side of his head. He was unconscious when they found him, bobbing along in his life vest.”
With Felipe’s hand continuing to rest gently on her shoulder, Molly finally faced the most agonizing question of all. Trying to contain a shudder, she asked, “Was he burned?”
“No, ma’am. The explosion threw him in the opposite direction from the worst of the fire. Sounds to me like he might have been about to dive off the bow, when that sucker blew. He’s one lucky son of a bitch.” At a scowl from his partner, he winced. “Sorry, ma’am.”