The signal had been set in advance, but it still came as a surprise the day it showed up.
Today, I had no choice. I had to get over to Jackpine Island, and I had to get there as soon as I could. Megan had hung out the red blanket.
It wasn’t as if we hadn’t had warning, and for days I’d watched for that red signal obsessively. At least six or eight times a day, I’d go up to the balcony and train my binoculars in the direction of that weatherbeaten little cottage till I had satisfied myself that no red blanket hung there. There were others—the white blanket that meant an outgoing message; the blue one that indicated a request for supplies. The red blanket, now, that was a different story. Red meant, “Get over here as fast as you can.”
As I headed out across the bay, my thoughts churned like the water that foamed around the bow of the sailboat. Had I remembered everything? My stash of specialized tools was in the waterproof compartment over there, and I was dressed in what I usually wore on these missions, simple dark colours that blood would wash out of without staining. You never knew how much blood there would be. Sometimes there were only a few drops. Other times it would be much harder to clean up the evidence, if there was a need to do so. You always hoped there wouldn’t be a lot of blood.
It was Megan and Edson’s daughter Danielle I was at least partly concerned about. Danielle was smart for her age; she had been prepared for the worst. You had to be, living on Jackpine with only a sailboat as transportation. If things got serious, Megan and Danielle knew how to take their own sailboat and go for help themselves, but it was kind of a last-resort measure. We had agreed ahead of time that it would be better for me to meet them there if things got touchy. There were some risks it just seemed better to face on solid ground rather than out on the water, lonely, unprotected.
If only the little family had heeded my advice to take up residence on the mainland, at least for a while. But it was summer, the weather was perfect, Danielle had just graduated from the eighth grade, and Edson loved to hang-glide. And Megan, to be honest, was a feisty lady. She always bragged that she could handle anything. SHE wasn’t afraid.
“What if he comes when you and Danielle are here alone, Megan? What if he comes when Edson is out flying?”
“He wouldn’t dare.” With a defiant toss of the head, she flung out her arm toward the sunlit beach, the blue waves. “And if he does, I can handle him.”
So, well, I let her stay. What else could I do, short of throwing and hog-tying the woman and carrying her bodily to the boat so she could be taken to safety against her will? I could have put more pressure on her, but in spite of the known risks, we all hoped there wouldn’t be anything to worry about. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t had warning. And Edson was getting in some spectacular flying time.
I lifted my eyes and scanned the sky. A white wing caught my gaze. That could be him, not too far away, drifting high above the earth. How long would it take to get back down? What if he decided to go up again without coming to the house first? How good was Edson at those accurate-landing skills he’d been working on lately? What if he crashed on the opposite side of the island? The possibilities were terrifying.
At the beach, I jumped out and tethered the boat, then grabbed my toolkit and ran toward the little cottage, where, nearing the front door, I heard a moan, then a scream. Danielle met me, tense, trembling, and thirteen years old. Without so much as a word of greeting, she grabbed me and dragged me in to the living room.
“Mom wants water.”
“Go get her some, then, sweetie.”
The scream had wavered and died away before I got there. Megan lay on the floor, barely moving or breathing, a tight knot of a woman with her arms clenched around her middle. There wasn’t much blood, just enough that I knew it hadn’t been a false alarm.
“It happened so fast,” she moaned, not looking at me.
“Have you eaten anything?” It was small talk, I told myself. Don’t let anyone panic. Try to calm everyone down. I knelt beside her, my hands hurriedly opening the toolkit.
“Ooh.” She groaned, then caught her breath as she curled into a tighter ball. I waited a minute then asked again.
“Food? Did you eat anything?”
“Just some of Edson’s white chili.”
“Was it really spicy?”
A smile flickered across Megan’s perspiring face. “Of course not.”
“Very funny. ” But one glance at the “feisty lady” had told me what I needed to know. Past experience told me that spicy chili was one of the usual suspects in cases like this.
Danielle had reappeared with a bottle of water, which she held for her mother to sip. I glanced out the open door in time to see Edson float into view, land lightly on his feet not forty yards away, unfasten his harness and hurry toward the house.
“Is she pushing yet?” were his first words.
“Just began. How did you know?”
“Saw the red blanket, and then saw your sailboat coming over. That red cross on the white sail is pretty hard to miss.”
“Get in there, then. The way things are going, it won’t be long before you’ll be holding that new son of yours in your arms.”