Charlie scratched the back of his neck and yawned. These early-morning shifts were a killer, and they always seemed to be even worse after the weekend. You’d think a couple of days off would give him time to recuperate and rest, but come Monday morning, Charlie always felt even worse than he had on Friday.
Well, the work wasn’t going to do itself.
Charlie got out of his car and ambled toward his workplace in the docks of Jones Harbor, his bones slow and stiff with the cold. December was never a great time to work on the docks, just as Monday morning wasn’t. It was cold, threatening more and more snow each day, and with the rest of the town giving fully into the Christmas spirit, work felt less and less inviting. He was just hanging on for those few days off. It wasn’t like he could stop working now, anyway, with all the presents to buy.
Dawn was breaking over the top of the ship that he needed to work on first. The old ship was still in service for harbor tours. Charlie patted the wood of the hull affectionately as he passed it creaking on the rope, just close enough that he could reach out and touch it without falling in the water.
It needed a clean before going out today. It always needed a clean. Too many tourists dropping their trash wherever they liked, sticking gum under the seats, and smearing sticky fingerprints on the thick plastic screens that shielded them from the worst of the spray. Charlie sighed and rolled his shoulders. He needed to check that she was seaworthy too. Regulation. Needed to be done regularly, especially in an old-style ship like this one. She wasn’t as old as she looked, having been built as a replica of historic designs, but she still had a few decades under her hull.
Charlie walked up the gangway and onto the vessel, moving toward the forecastle to get a good view of the sun rising over the sea to the east. It was beautiful this time of day. Quiet but for the birds and the waves.
There’s an unusual number of birds sitting on the railings at the bow,he thought as he came closer. He dropped his bag down on the deck of the forecastle with a heavythunk, causing the birds to startle and flap their wings, several of them flying off.
Then circling back, dipping their wings and their noses, clearly far more interested in the end of the ship than fearful of him.
Charlie frowned, squinting. Something was off. They weren’t usually clustered in such large numbers. Was there something down there? A basket that had floated off full of dead fish, maybe? He moved to the edge of the bridge but couldn’t see anything.
Well, he had to do an inspection anyway.
Charlie walked back down off the bridge, down off the gangway, and around to the front of the ship. There were a lot of birds gathered on the dock, too, huddled along the wooden planks near to the ship. He hadn’t noticed them from this angle on the way up, but there they were. They took flight at his footsteps, too, obscuring his view of the front of the ship for a moment.
He looked up.
There was a long second where it didn’t make sense to him. He knew there was something off about the view of the ship—something that didn’t mesh with the usual order of things. But for a long moment, all he could see was the birds and nothing else, the picture somehow just not making sense.
And then he realized.
It was normally a wooden carving of a woman, a mermaid, reaching out along the carved railings under the bow strip, as if about to dive into the water ahead of the ship.
There was a figure there now. But it wasn’t a mermaid. And it wasn’t a wooden carving.
It was a dead body.
Charlie fell to his knees on the walkway and threw up into the water before fumbling in his pocket for his cell phone—almost dropping it in the same spot as his vomit. He dialed 911 with shaking fingers, shoved his cell phone against his ear, and braced himself against the wood. He looked up again, and his gaze traveled without his permission, unable to stop looking back at the horrible sight.
“What’s your emergency?”
“Send the police,” he said. “And an ambulance. Send everyone to the docks. They’ve killed him and lashed him to the boat.”
And he looked away, unable to bear looking at the thing that would no doubt be in his nightmares for the rest of his life.
Laura paced back and forth in the waiting area, clasping her hands tightly. She didn’t want to look like she was losing her mind in front of the others who were sitting around and waiting, but she couldn’t sit still. Not with what had happened. Not with the way she had screwed up. It had been hours, and she hadn’t heard anything from Chris or Zach. She’d just been stuck in this waiting room, alone, with only her thoughts for company.
She had to try and think of what she could say to excuse all of this away, but no matter how she tried, she just couldn’t seem to work it out.
How could you come up with an excuse for the fact that you almost shot the man you loved because a psychic vision led you to mistakenly believe that he could be a violent killer?
How did you even begin to explain that in a way that sounded rational and sane?
Laura’s head shot up. Chris was standing there, over in the hall that led into the waiting area, in the spot where doctors would stand to call through their next patient. Laura had seen them getting up and going over there one by one. She knew what was expected of her, although she desperately fought for a moment for some kind of excuse for not going to talk with him.