Home > Tail Spin (FBI Thriller #12)

Tail Spin (FBI Thriller #12)
Catherine Coulter


Black Rock Lake

Oranack, Maryland

Friday night

She thought she swallowed because her throat burned hot, as if splashed with sharp acid, but she wasn’t sure because she couldn’t think clearly. Her mind felt dark, as heavy and thick as chains, and she knew to her soul there was violence just beyond it. She smelled something rancid, oil with a layer of rot and decay. What was that smell? What did it mean? Her brain wasn’t clear enough yet to figure it out. But she knew she had to, had to fight it or—what? I’ll die, that’s what. I’ve got to get myself together, I’ve got to wake up, or I’ll die.

The smell grew stronger, and she wanted to vomit. She knew she had to be awake or she’d choke to death. She had to move, to wake up.

She swallowed again, nearly heaved when the acid in her throat mixed with that rancid smell. She tried to breathe lightly, concentrated all her energy on opening her eyes, on feeling her body, on tearing herself out of the black shroud where she was unable to move or speak. Her head felt heavy, her throat burned, and her mind—where was her mind? There, gnawing at the edges of her brain, were sharp hits of pain and fear, sweeping away the confusion, coming closer, breaking through the numbness.

She heard voices. Mr. Cullifer’s voice? She didn’t think so; his voice was very distinctive, like wet gravel underfoot. But she couldn’t make out who they were or what they were saying, if they were male or female. But she knew that what the voices were saying was bad. For her.

The smell was so strong it burned her eyes and her nose. Suck it in, suck it in, get yourself together. She breathed in deeply, ignored the nausea, and at last she felt her brain jitter, felt edges of consciousness spear up, tear through the black.

It was dead fish she smelled, overwhelming now, and the smell of boats, of diesel fumes overlaying wet.

They were picking her up—who were they?—carrying her, her feet, her arms, and she breathed in the fetid odor. Keep breathing, keep breathing. She heard wooden planks creak, heard night sounds—crickets, an owl, the lapping of water.

Her eyes flew open when she went airborne. She hit the water hard on her back. The slap of pain snapped her back into her brain and her body. Instinct made her draw in a big breath before the water splashed over her face, closed over her head, before she was slowly dragged to the bottom. Move, move. But she couldn’t. Though her hands weren’t tied, a rope was wrapped around her chest to hold her arms at her sides. Her feet were tied and tethered to something heavy—a block of cement, she knew that instinctively. Too many Mafia movies. They didn’t just want her to drown, they wanted her to disappear forever, like she’d never existed, never come into their lives.

She didn’t want to die. I’m not going to die.

She was tied to the cement with the same thick rope that bound her ankles tightly together. She could do this, she could. She quickly shimmied away the rope around her chest, then her fingers went to work. They were clumsy, but it didn’t matter, she didn’t want to die, and she worked frantically. Surprisingly, she could see in the water, knew it wasn’t all that deep because she sensed the moonlight above, and it was enough. She dug her fingernails under the knot and patiently, so patiently, worked it loose. Her chest began to burn. She ignored it, concentrated on the knots.

Because she’d been the captain of her swim team in college, because she knew how to control her breathing to maximum effect, she knew her time was running out. The drug she’d ingested hadn’t helped. She knew she couldn’t last much longer. It was so hard to keep her mouth shut, to keep from breathing. Her eyes were blurring, the water shimmering, the pressure in her chest building and building until it nearly burst her open.

I’m going to drown, I’m going to drown. The knot came loose. She kicked off the cement block and shot to the surface. When her head cleared, she wanted to haul in a huge gulp of air, but forced herself to take short, quiet breaths through her nose. She had to hold very still, trying not to ripple the water for fear they were still there, staring down at where they’d thrown her in, watching for bubbles, waiting, waiting until they knew she couldn’t still be alive. They’d wait, oh yes, they’d wait to make sure they’d erased her.

Her brain was in full gear again. She heard the light lapping of water against the pilings of a wooden pier. They’d walked out onto the pier and thrown her out into the water, believing it deep enough. She eased back under the water and swam under the pier to hide behind the pilings.

She surfaced very slowly, very quietly, wanting to suck in so much air she’d never run out again, but she only let her face clear the surface. She forced herself to take calm, light breaths. She was alive. Slowly, her breaths became deeper and deeper. She filled her lungs. It felt wonderful.

She heard voices again, but couldn’t understand any words because they were moving away now. Men? Women? She couldn’t tell, she only knew there were two of them. She heard feet clomping on the wooden pier, heard a car engine, heard the car drive away. She swam out from under the pier and saw the taillights of a car in the distance.

Good. They thought they’d killed her.

How had they drugged her? For a moment she couldn’t think, couldn’t remember, couldn’t picture what she’d eaten or drunk earlier. She’d eaten dinner by herself, in the kitchen. The wine, she thought, the bottle of red on the table that she’d opened. Where had it come from? She didn’t know, hadn’t paid any attention.

She smiled. What none of them had realized was that she’d drunk only a bit of the wine. Any more and she’d be lying dead at the bottom of this lake. No one would know where she was. She’d just be gone. Forever.

She pulled herself out of the water, shivered as she slapped her hands against her arms and looked around. There were no houses, no lakeside cottages with narrow docks and tethered boats, only a skinny two-lane road winding off into the distant darkness. She shuddered with cold and shock, but it didn’t matter. She was alive.

She came upon a sign: BLACK ROCK LAKE. Where was Black Rock Lake?

It didn’t matter. She had two legs that worked fairly well. She began to walk in the same direction as the car.

It seemed like forever, but it was maybe only fifteen minutes when she saw the lights of a small town—ORANACK, MARYLAND, according to the small black-and-white sign.

It was late. She didn’t know exactly how late because her watch had died in the water. She walked through the deserted town, her eyes on a neon sign that beamed out in bright orange—MEL’S DINER—all glass so you could see back to the swinging door to the kitchen.

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