Hunter at Sea by Jevic    Hunter at Sea
by Jevic
The Tarheel Writer
Chapter One
"Squall"



On to Chapter Two
"Certainty of Truth"
Chapter Index

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Hunter at Sea by Jevic
Action/Adventure
Drama/Angst
Rated PG 13+

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The young boy wrapped his seventeen-year-old hand around the handle and started to turn while the fierce wind whipped his blond hair around his face. At first, it was easy to crank the winch, but with each rotation, it got harder. The wind driven spray coated his face in fine cold needles of pain. His bicep burned as he turned the winch as fast as he could.

Squall

Hunter Ward, a junior in high school, was near the top of his class. Of the two hundred thirty-seven students in his class, he was ranked at fourth. It was his grades and not his social standing that brought him that stature. Socially speaking, Hunter ranked two hundred thirty-seven, dead last.

"Hurry up Hunter!" Blue eyes glanced back at the helm. "I can't hold her much longer." A large green wave crashed over the bow and rolled back over the deck drenching the boy in cold seawater. He gritted his teeth in determination and swung the winch handle around again, inching the mainsail downward into the second reef position. Wind whipped through the rigging as he turned the winch. It's howling sound drowning out everything else.

*    *    *    *    *

Camden County High School in Kingsland, Georgia was a typical rural high school where anyone in sports ruled the social scene. While Hunter excelled in academics, he shied away from sports. His mother called him sensitive. His older brother called him a queer. Following in the footsteps of a brother two years older cast an immediate expectation on a boy who just wanted to read. He had no aspirations to sack the quarterback or complete an alley oup on the basketball court. All the girls thought he was cute with his slim figure and blond hair. The boys thought he was a pansy and constantly gave him a hard time.

*    *    *    *    *

"That'll do!" came the call from the helm as the "Rum Runner" staggered to starboard. The canvas caught in the wind and the sailboat heeled over in the thirty-knot wind. The boy held on to the winch handle as the side safety rails dipped into the green water only to resurface a moment later.

"Travel the main over and let out the main sheet!" Hunter popped the traveler's line from its brake and eased the boom over. With the line's brake back on, he turned to the main sheet, giving the line a few wraps around the winch. He released the brake and eased the boom out even more. The hard heel to port eased.

"That's good!" the captain shouted above the roaring wind. "Come take the helm. I've gotta go below and check our course." Hunter scampered back to the big silver wheel and took over. "Just steer south and keep us within sight of land. I don't want this storm to push us out too far." The boy nodded. "And don't get too close to shore either. We don't want to end up in the shallows," the captain said as he clambered below.

*    *    *    *    *

Summers found Hunter doing what he most enjoyed, sailing his twenty-two foot Catalina sailboat. Every Saturday, Hunter made the run from his home on the St. Mary's River, out the inlet by Fort Clinch into the Atlantic then down past Amelia Island to Boneyard Beach. Sometimes he would spend the night at anchor. It was fantastic fun and he could think of nothing he would rather do. There was nothing as good as filling his lungs with sea air and feeling the salt spray on his face.

Catalina 18

*    *    *    *    *

Hunter's heart was hammering in his chest. When he signed on to help move the sailboat down to the Florida Keys, he'd never imagined it would be like this. A huge wave slammed into the side of the boat sending a shower of cold water into his face. His cargo shorts were drenched, and his thin tee shirt was soaked. Goose bumps rose on his arms and legs. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine.

"Here!" a voice called out. Hunter looked down at the companionway and saw the captain holding a bright yellow slicker. He hit the auto pilot button and scurried around the huge wheel to get the coat. "Be sure to keep your safety line on!" the captain ordered as Hunter took the coat. He nodded as he pulled the coat on. A bright flash was immediately followed by a loud crack of thunder. Hunter looked up and saw a dark line of rain racing toward the boat. He glanced down at the captain and for the first time noticed the man's face was white.

"You, okay?"

"Seasick. Look, the wind's gonna pick up in this squall. You need to put another reef in the main and take in about half the jib. We should be fine," the captain choked out as he turned to vomit in the galley sink. Hunter's eye's bulged at the captain's request. Reefing down a sailboat in the middle of a squall was a job for a seasoned professional, not a kid, but Hunter was determined. The captain was relying on him to bring the sailboat through the squall.

The seventeen year old turned the forty-five foot sailboat to the west, directly into the wind and engaged the autopilot. The front line of the rain rolled over and stole away the late afternoon sunshine, replacing it with an ominous darkness. He quickly wrapped the main sheet around a winch and drew it tight. Then, he wrapped the third reef sheet in another winch and cranked it tight. Slowing releasing the main sheet, Hunter cranked in the third reef sheet reducing the amount of canvas of the mainsail to the size of a storm trysail. He engaged the brakes on the sheets and released them from their winches. Just as he turned to crank in the jib, another wave crashed headlong into the bow of the boat. The cold green water rolled quickly down the length of the boat and slammed into Hunter tossing him over the aft railing and into the boiling seas.

The cold water cut through him like a hot knife through butter, but he hung on to the lifeline. Without any help, pulling oneself back onto the deck of the sailboat in pitching seas would be almost impossible, but Hunter's youth and dexterity were an asset. He slowly dragged himself through the raging water and on to the rear swim platform. His eyes darted around wildly as he took in the situation. The boat was still headed directly into the wind, due west, directly toward the shore. The sails were flapping violently in the thirty-knot wind. Apparently, the autopilot was still doing its job. Hunter remembered the captain saying to keep the shore in sight, but not too close. From what Hunter could see through the driving rain, the sailboat was less than a half-mile from shore. He could even see the distant surf pounding on the beach. He clambered over the railing, released the autopilot and quickly turned to port. The thirty-knot wind had increased to forty and quickly filled the small storm tri-sail. The full jib caught the force of the wind and dragged the boat more to port. Hunter immediately realized what was happening and moved to reef in the jib. Every sheet on the boat was taught as catgut on a banjo. The wind screamed in his ears as he wrapped the jib reef line around a winch. Slowly releasing the jib sheet caused the canvas to flap wildly. Just as he turned to winch in the jib, another wave slammed into the sailboat. The boat shuddered as she heeled over to port. Hunter grabbed the rail and held on. The boat heeled over until the mast was just feet from the water. It happened so fast, there was nothing he could do but hang on with all his life.

The boy's hands were white, not from the cold of the water, but from the sheer force he was exerting by hanging on. His heart pounded wildly, and his eye filled with terror as he looked down into the wildly thrashing seas. What seemed like hours only lasted a few seconds as the sailboat slowly righted herself and continued to plow headlong into the vicious waves of the squall.

Squall - rail in the water

Hunter quickly grabbed the wheel and turned her hard over bringing the brunt of the storm to the stern. He deftly engaged the autopilot and reefed the jib in entirely. Then he traveled the main over and let it catch the wind. With the big silver wheel back in his hands, Hunter steered the boat as best he could, steering to port or starboard as necessary to keep a huge breaking wave from crashing into the cockpit. Looking down at the compass, Hunter's eye's widened as he realized the sailboat was headed due east, directly out into middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Another glance at the "SOG" instrument (Speed Over Ground) told him he was making just over sixteen knots. With that kind of speed, Hunter quickly calculated that the sailboat could easily be more than fifty miles at sea before the storm was over. The captain had to know.

With the autopilot engaged, the young boy headed down the companionway. What he found, he would never forget. The captain lay on the teak floor. A huge puddle of blood surrounded his head. Hunter's Boy Scout First Aid kicked in. He immediately checked the captain's breathing. Nothing. Then he checked for a pulse. Nothing. In the middle of a raging squall while headed out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Hunter gave the only person with the knowledge to bring both of them back to safety, CPR.

The young boy ignored the howling wind and occasional spray of water down the companionway as he gave chest compressions and alternately breathed into the captain's mouth. The nights at Boy Scout meetings and practicing with CPR dummies paid off as his training took over. Hunter performed the lifesaving task flawlessly. His technique was perfect. The training had paid off. The only thing all that training left out was what to do if it didn't work.

After twenty minutes, Hunter gave up. Freezing spray splashed down the companionway followed by a bright flash of lightening. As thunder rolled throughout the salon, Hunter knew Captain Turner was dead. The cold pallor of his skin shone dully in the cabin light. A wave over the stern sent freezing cold water splashing down the companionway. Bright lightning flashed again, and thunder rolled heavily through the sailboat. Hunter had never, ever before, felt so alone.

The sudden sparks from the "nav" table grabbed his attention. Hunter watched as first the GPS blinked out and then each and every instrument turned black. He glanced at the VHF radio and saw that it too had shorted out.

Sitting on the deck of the main salon beside the dead captain, Hunter thought through his options. His experience was second to none. Having sailed since he was, well, ever since he could remember, Hunter knew how to sail a boat. His father had taught him well. His father also taught him navigation. Modern electronics made it so easy that anyone could navigate … as long as the electronics worked. Now, Hunter found himself in the middle of the Atlantic with no clue as to where he was. His blue eyes swept over the blank instruments. Then he recalled the compass at the wheel. He recalled their original course. It was generally south from Saint Augustine. They intended staying no more than five miles offshore. Then the unexpected squall had come up out of nowhere. Clear blue skies gave way to dark ominous clouds in less than half of hour. There had been no warning. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure the Gulf Stream was pulling them north at a whopping five knots and the storm was pushing them west at almost fifteen knots. The only spit of land north was Bermuda. Trying to land there would be like finding a needle in a haystack. To the south were the Bahamas, to the east, more Atlantic Ocean and to the west, the great state of Florida. It would be hard the miss that.

A particularity large wave slammed into the stern of "Rum Runner" and splashed down the companionway. The cold water roused Hunter from his thoughts. He scrambled up the steps, secured the hatch and returned to hand steering. While the autopilot was good, it was no substitute for hand steering in a storm.

A bright flash of lightening told Hunter the storm was far from over, if anything, the winds were increasing. The sailboat lumbered up the towering waves and then surfed down the far side. Each trip down the far side was racked with danger. If Hunter let the bow veer either left or right, the momentum of the wave would flip the boat over. Being tired, cold, soaked to the bone and with nerves stretched to their limit was not a good combination, especially for a boy with no real blue water experience.

A sudden loud sound, much like that of a rifle, rang out in Hunter's ears. He knew that sound. It had happened to him only once. That was the sound of a stay breaking under the strain of the wind, which now probably topped out at sixty knots. The forty-five foot "Rum Runner" wasn't designed to handle this much weather. She was designed for coastal cruising, not open ocean blue water sailing. Another rifle sound cut through the intense sounds of the storm. Hunter watched as the fifty-five foot aluminum mast tumbled forward and crashed on the cabin top just before sliding off the starboard deck into the raging water. The remaining stays held and kept the mast from sinking to the bottom of the ocean but that presented another problem. That much weight, combined with the canvas attached to it, made steering the sailboat almost impossible, plus the mast was banging dangerously hard against the hull, plus the relentless towering waves of the ocean.

With no advance warning, a large wave crested and broke over the stern, filling the cockpit with water nearly washing Hunter over the side. Hauling himself through the water in the cockpit, Hunter fired the engine, stabbed it into forward gear and slammed down the throttle. He grabbed the wheel and turned it hard to port, trying to overcome the drag the submerged mast was causing. The "Rum Runner" shuddered under the demands of its rudder and the drag of the mast, which was now continually slammed into the side of the sailboat. Hunter knew he had to get the mast out of the water so he could control the steering and he had to do it fast before it knocked a hole in the hull.

Hunter stabbed at the autopilot button but got no response. He wrapped a piece of line around the pedestal and lashed the wheel down. The young boy snatched one of the flopping sheets from the mast and wrapped it around the nearest winch. He grabbed the winch handle and started to crank the line in. Miraculously, the line went to the top of the first reef. As the line tightened, the top of the mast slowly rose from the water. Hunter grabbed another loose sheet and wrapped it around another winch. As he cranked it in, he watched the lower half of the mast slowly come up to the rail. With the mast mostly out of the water, Hunter finally had enough steering capability to bring the sailboat under control. With no sail, the boat was now little more than a powerboat, but with sixty-knot winds, the engine would give little help. Hunter realized the futility of using the engine and shut it down. He turned and pulled a five-gallon bucket from the port lazarette. He quickly tied the longest line he could find to the bucket and tossed it over the stern. Before the line trailed out, he hurriedly tied it to the port stern cleat. With the bucket acting as a sea anchor, it would effectively keep the stern of the sailboat toward the breaking waves. Hunter checked his lashing of the wheel then scampered below decks securing the hatch behind him. There was nothing else he could do.

After wrapping the captain's body in a sheet and lashing it to the bulkhead, Hunter changed into dry clothes. While the sailboat lurched from side to side, wallowing in the heavy surf, the boy huddled on the settee and held on with each roll of the boat. He took stock of his situation … no radio, no instruments, no GPS, no mast and no captain. There would be no way to determine where he was. All he knew for fact was that Florida lay to the west. When the storm settled, he would crank the engine and make way toward safe harbor.

*    *    *    *    *

It was the quiet that woke Hunter up. He listened intently and only heard the gentle sound of waves lapping at the side of the sailboat and the occasional clanging of the mast. The "Rum Runner" wallowed gently in total darkness. Hunter switched on the cabin lights and immediately saw the captain's body. He wanted to take time to grieve, but more pressing issues were at hand. He scrambled up the companionway and opened the hatch. He was greeted with a chilly star filled night with calm winds and a calm sea. That wasn't right. He should be looking up at the canopy over the cockpit. Instead, yes, those were definitely stars. Hunter reached just inside the companionway and grabbed a flashlight. He shone it around the cockpit and found the canopy and its frame hanging just over the starboard side, tangled with the mast. The wheel was still lashed, but where the compass had been at the top of the pedestal, there was nothing. Hunter rushed over to the wheel. The compass had been smashed, he assumed, by the canopy's framework. He shivered at the thought of no compass and at the chill in the air. The boy hurried below and pulled on a jacket. Then he scoured the cabin in search of anything that might help, particularly a compass.

"Yes," he said to himself, and he grabbed the handheld GPS from the corner of the salon.

"No," he whispered to himself when he saw the smashed screen. Hunter sank back on the settee and took a deep breath. Taking quick stock of his situation, he found he had absolutely no ability to navigate, no sail, no mast and a dead captain. He glanced at the sheet shrouded body and made a quick decision. The captain wasn't a big man, but moving dead weight was still difficult. Hunter dragged the body to the aft cabin, lashed it to the bulkhead so it wouldn't roll around and closed the door.

"Out of sight, out of mind," he mumbled to himself. He took a quick inventory of the galley. Thankfully, it was well stocked. He remembered filling the freshwater tank just before leaving, so he knew he had plenty of that. The fuel tank had been topped off as well.

After firing the engine that also provided electricity, Hunter put on a pot of coffee. While he was waiting for it to brew, he grabbed some lunchmeat and the mayo out of the refrigerator and made himself a quick sandwich. With coffee cup filled with steaming hot caffeine and a turkey sandwich wrapped in a paper towel, he made it topside and settled down in the cockpit.

*    *    *    *    *

"I don't want no uniform on my boat," Captain Turner said to the Coast Guard commander, in a voice that brooked no argument. "I'm too old and too set in my ways to have some young upstart Coast Guard Academy Graduate telling me what I'm doing is wrong."

"Look, Bill. This new radar is top secret and the need to keep it under wraps … "

"Stop right there, Matt. I agreed to do this, but I agreed to do it on my own terms, not yours, if you would be so kindly to remember our conversation." Commander Walsh sighed and nodded. "Okay, okay, I remember, but I still want someone with you. Will you at least give me that concession?" Now it was Captain Turner's turn to sigh.

"Fine, and just who do you suggest?" huffed the captain. Matt Walsh smiled

"Hunter Scott," he said with a grin on his face.

"Who the hell is that?"

"You know Captain Westphal?"

"I do, fine man."

"You know his son, Jesse?"

"Fine young man," Captain Turner nodded.

"Hunter is Jesse's best friend. He's the one responsible for getting Jesse into sailing. He owns a twenty-two foot Catalina. He and Jesse sail just about every day." Commander Walsh's grin grew wider.

"Wait a minute! Jesse's just, what, fourteen?"

"No Bill. He's seventeen and Hunter is quite the seasoned sailor. Although he doesn't hold a candle to you, my friend."

"I ain't taking no snot nosed kid on a blue water sail," Captain Turner said as he crossed his arms across his chest.

"Blue water sail? I thought we agreed this would be a coastal sail, something that Hunter is very familiar with," Commander Walsh said with an even eider grin.

"Fine, but the minute that boy says the word 'rope' he's done." Of course the commander knew there was no 'rope' on a sailing vessel, only 'lines.'

"It seems we have an accord then," Matt Walsh said with an all out grin.

*    *    *    *    *

"Hunter! Hurry up! You're gonna be late!" his mom yelled.

"Be right down," he called back. Hunter quickly put the last few items into his duffle bag. At the last minute, he decided to put a framed picture in. He looked at the photo and smiled sadly. It was a picture of him and his "used to be" best friend, Jesse, arm in arm with the "Pearl" in the background. He shoved the picture down between tee shirts and pulled the cord, closing the duffle up tight. The young man hoisted the bag on his shoulder and headed downstairs.

His mom looked up when he came into the kitchen. She looked worried.

"Are you sure this is what you want to do on your spring break?" she asked. Hunter sighed. They had been through this several times since Captain Turner had first asked Hunter to be his first mate.

"Yes, mom. I'm sure," he said as he sat at the kitchen table and started in on his breakfast.

"But wouldn't you rather spend your break with your friends? With Jesse?" she asked for, what Hunter thought, was the ninety-ninth time.

"We've been through this before, mom. This is a great opportunity. I'll have a week at sea with Captain Turner delivering a really beautiful sailboat to the Keys. If things work out, I'll even have a few days in the Keys to get some sun," he patiently explained as he shoveled a fork full of eggs into his mouth.

"But what about Jesse? I thought he was your best friend. Couldn't he go along too?" Hunter slowly swallowed his eggs. His excited expression turned into a frown.

"No, mom. I don't think that's gonna happen. Jesse has his own ideas about what it takes to be friends and his ideas no longer match up with mine." Hunter stabbed a piece of sausage and viciously bit it in half. His mom decided to take another tactic.

"Are you sure this is going to be safe? After all, you're going to be in the ocean. It's not like day sailing around the island." Hunter bit into a piece of toast.

"Yes, mom. The sailboat has all the modern navigation equipment. And it's not like we'll be in the middle of the ocean. We'll be either just off the coast or on the Intracoastal Waterway, plus Captain Turner has been doing this for years."

"That's what bothers me, Hunter. Captain Turner has to be pushing seventy."

"And since when did that have anything to do with anything? Pops is pushing eighty and he still drives, plays golf and goes sailing with me." Mrs. Ward sighed, knowing she was not going to win this argument. When her son was determined to do something, he did it.

She had watched her once always happy child turn inward, slowly closing out his friends. He liked to spend time sailing. When he wasn't on the sailboat, he was always reading and studying. She had no argument about that since his grades were almost perfect. It was the way he had closed off the majority of his friends and then suddenly just last week, had had a falling out with Jesse. That boy had been her son's best friend since fourth grade. She just couldn't understand what could possibly come between them. She smiled gently as she watched her almost grown son devour his breakfast, draining down two glasses of milk in the process.

"She'll never understand," Hunter thought to himself. "Jesse certainly didn't."

*    *    *    *    *

Hunter looked up into the star filled night remembering the last conversation with his mom. He drained his coffee and wadded up the empty paper towel. As his eyes gazed up into the heavens, they came to rest on the Big Dipper. Something in his memory niggled at his consciousness. It was memories of studying for his Astronomy Merit Badge. What was it about the Big Dipper? Hunter stood abruptly as the memory clarified in his mind. The stars across the end of the Big Dipper point to the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper and that tip was Polaris, the North Star!

Little Dipper - Polaris

"I can navigate!" he screamed into the night. Hunter pulled the makeshift sea anchor in and stowed it back in the lazarette. He fired the engine and unlashed the wheel. Taking a long look at Polaris, Hunter determined which way was west and brought the "Rum Runner" around in that direction.

"Perfect," he thought as he jabbed at the autopilot button. Nothing happened. He jabbed at it again. Nothing. It was then he remembered that all the electronics on the boat had shorted out in the knock down. He'd have to hand steer. Keeping Polaris over his right shoulder, Hunter knew he was steering west … west toward Florida … west toward safety.

Now that "Rum Runner" was underway, the mast and canopy frame banged against the fiberglass side. Hunter slowed and lashed the wheel. He worked as quickly as he could in the darkness to lash the whole mess down. By the time he was finished and had returned to the wheel, Polaris was directly behind him. He swore under his breath, unlashed the wheel and turned back to starboard, bringing him back on course. As the minutes stretched into hours, Hunter fought to keep his eyes open. Despite the short nap and the cup of coffee, the adrenalin he'd spent during the height of the storm had taken its toll. Hunter was exhausted. Through bleary eyes, he watched as the dark night slowly turned to gray. Dawn was coming and with its arrival, his only method of navigation would leave. Lashing the wheel wouldn't work. He'd learned that earlier.

Dismasted!

As the sun rose over the horizon and the starlit night slowly turned to blue, Hunter shut off the engine and let "Rum Runner" drift on the open ocean. Even though the fuel tank was full, it was best to conserve what fuel he did have to use when he actually knew where he was headed. Hunter scanned the horizon and saw nothing but water in every direction. There was no sign of another boat … no sign of anything. He stumbled below deck and sat heavily on the settee. His blue eyes darted around the salon and finally fell on the aft cabin door. Just beyond that door lay the body of Captain Turner. Grief and helplessness struck at the same time. Hunter just wanted to escape the situation he was in. That's when his eyes fell on the half full bottle of tequila. Without giving it a second thought, he snatched the bottle from its place along the bulkhead. That warm liquid slid slowly down his throat and was followed by an intense burning that brought tears to Hunter's eyes. He took another healthy slug from the bottle and settled back onto the settee.

The now empty bottle of Jose Cuervo rolled against the bulkhead with a slight clink, but the seventeen year old was fast asleep without a care in the world.

*    *    *    *    *

"You don't understand!" plead Hunter as tears streamed down his face. Jesse, his best friend, looked at him with disgust.

"Oh, yes. I do understand," Jesse said, his voice dripping with hatred. "You're a fag and you've been perving on me ever since we met!"

"It's not like that!" screamed Hunter as he started to stand up. A fist connected with his jaw sending him back onto the couch.

"It's exactly like that. You just told me, you asshole!" Jesse screamed. "You said you've been in love with me since we met, for Christ's sake." Jesse whirled around and headed for the door. "Good God, all those nights we slept in the same bed and you were, you were, goddamn you, Hunter. I never, ever want to talk to or see you again. Just stay away from me!" Jesse yelled as he walked out the door.

Hunter knew he was taking a chance on telling Jesse that he had fallen in love with him. He couldn't help it. Jesse knew everything there was to know about Hunter, well, except the love part. They were best friends and did everything together. As their junior year was coming to a close, Hunter knew he had to tell Jesse how he felt. The pressure of keeping his feelings secret was just about to drive him crazy not to mention the weight it put on his heart.

At first, the feelings had been purely emotional, but as puberty matured, physical attraction became more and more prominent. Spending the night at Jesse's slowly turned into torture. They always slept together. It was just the way it had always been. And Jesse was a "hugger." Sometime in the middle of the night, Jesse would roll over and wrap his arms around Hunter. It was the closest thing to both heaven and hell that Hunter had ever known. The pressure became so intense that he was left with no choice. He had to tell Jesse. If his best friend left him, he'd have to live with it. If he accepted him, but only wanted to remain friends, that would work too. But somewhere deep in Hunter's heart, he desperately wanted Jesse to love him the way he loved Jesse. Now, the worst case scenario had become true. Hunter curled up on the couch and wept. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks as the realization of his loss hit him.

The following day was even worse as Jesse openly shunned him in school. People kept asking him what had happened. If two friends who were practically joined at the hip were suddenly on the outs, there had to be a reason. And that reason was not something he wanted to get out.

Hunter went to school the next few days with the heavy weight of dread on his shoulders. He glanced around at the other students, waiting for the whispers. Jesse had been mad enough that Hunter knew he would tell anyone who would listen. But the whispers never came. Hunter silently thanked God that Jesse decided not to say anything.

The invitation from Captain Turner has been a godsend. It was the perfect opportunity to get away from school, from his friends, from his family and especially from Jesse.

*    *    *    *    *

Hunter woke with a start. Something wasn't right. The cabin was dark and everything seemed okay, but a little voice in his mind told him otherwise. Suddenly, "Rum Runner" heeled sharply over to port. The sailboat listed so far over, Hunter thought it was another knock down. But that couldn't be possible. He didn't have a mast, much less any sails. A horrid scraping sound down the port side lasted just a few seconds before the sailboat slowly righted herself. Hunter ran up the companionway and peered into the night. Looking astern, he could barely make out the silhouette of a large freighter with no running lights.

"Bastard!" he screamed as the dark hulk quickly disappeared into the night. His head was pounding and he grabbed it in anguish. Hunter stumbled back below and went straight to the head. He searched through the cabinets and finally found some aspirin. Returning to the galley, he washed them down with a glass of water. A slight clinking noise drew his attention to the other side of the salon. Rolling slightly with the easy pitch of the boat was an empty bottle of Jose Cuervo.

Hunter used the frying pan and a quick flick of his wrist to flip the eggs. A plate with a paper towel was soaking up the grease from the cooling bacon. He filled a cup with coffee as he waited for the eggs to finish.

The clock told him it was eight at night. The reason he'd managed to sleep over twelve hours was the empty bottle of Jose Cuervo, now bobbing in the calm waters far astern. Hunter emptied the frying pan onto his plate and added several strips of bacon before settling down at the salon table. Biting into his first fork full of eggs, Hunter's thoughts turned to his mother and the last breakfast they had together. He knew she would be worried. Since he had promised to call her on his cell phone every day, Hunter knew she would call in the cavalry. He smiled as he bit into a piece of bacon. Help was probably already on the way.

Unbeknownst to Hunter, the storm had pushed "Rum Runner" far out to sea, hundreds of miles from where she should have been. Coast Guard ships and planes were indeed scouring an area well away from his actual position. And in a bedroom, behind closed doors, another young boy sobbed into his pillow clutching a picture frame. The image in the frame was Hunter and himself arm in arm grinning at the camera in just cut off shorts with the "Pearl" in the background. They were twelve years old. A duplicate picture frame currently resided in a duffle bag aboard a missing sailboat.

The news of the missing sailboat had hit Jesse headlong. As the tears fell, he finally realized what he had denied. He silently prayed that the missing boy would be safe and, hopefully, would forgive his best friend for a moment of panic.


On to Chapter Two
"Certainty of Truth"

Chapter Index

Jevic's Story Page


Hunter at Sea is © 2008-2022 by The Tarheel Writer.
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