They went over the truck as carefully as they could knowing the sun soon would be gone. They knew that if Sarah was on Turtle Island they would have to head there, too, preferably with some daylight. They still were not certain where she might be. Several feet from the driver's side Salzwedel stooped and picked something up.
“Keys,” he said quietly, holding up a faded blue metallic caribiner from which dangled a half dozen silver and brass keys, a silver medallion and a black hard plastic remote pad with controls to lock and unlock a vehicle and operate its horn. The medallion was set with an enameled image of Confederate Col. John Singleton Mosby.
“Cy's.” Frank Rust made this determination after taking the keys from Salzwedel and squinting closely at them. He had already found the ignition key in a cup bucket between the dash and the front seat. Kellam always left it in the truck. Rust had seemed surprised the truck was left unlocked. And now, finding the missing remote on the ground nearby and with the shotgun still unaccounted for, he moved from surprise to a new concern.
Blow saw it in the way the old man's head swiveled alertly back and forth, straining with raised chin to see into the growing shadows and the underbrush beside the river on either side of the long pier. He led them back to the pier and fixed his searching gaze to the boats tied at pilings out to the end.
“She ain't here, boys.” He nodded at the pier. “I don't see Cy's Jon boat out there. Luke was right. She on the island.”
“Jon boat? Like this one?” Blow indicated the nearest boat, tied alongside the pier. It was white with the stains and scuffs of heavy use. A little cabin jutted up near the bow just above the name Holly B. in bold black script.
Rust laughed. It was a friendly sound, a gentle chuckle. “No, sir, Mr. Stone. That there's a deadrise. Old workboat, forty-two footer. We'll take mine. You'll see.”
Blow and Salzwedel followed Rust cautiously along the rickety pier. Rust paused a couple of times to examine smaller boats, about a third of the length of the others and without cabins or names. Outboard motors were attached to their sterns. He shook his head at one of them, and continued walking. Over his shoulder he said, “Look like Cy's. That Evinrude twenty horsepower. Cy's is fifteen.”
He stopped at another of the smaller boats further along. He looked up smiling with pride at Blow and Salzwedel. “This here jon boat's mine.”
Rust stepped with an athlete's agility into the aluminum boat, and reached out to help the others board. Salzwedel went first. The shallow boat rocked dangerously when his full weight was on board. Rust guided him to the seat nearest the bow and advised him to sit in the plank's middle.
The boat had steadied when Rust took Blow's hand in his leathery grip and eased him down from the pier to sit on the boat's center plank. The boat's deck wobbled under Blow's feet, challenging his sense of balance despite the helping hand, and he was glad for the opportunity to sit on the aluminum plank.
With both passengers secure, the boat's skipper crouched and reached under a raised narrow deck at the stern. When he turned to face Blow he was holding a couple of rubberized canvas coats and two pair of white rubber calf-length boots.
He handed these to Blow, who held them against on his lap looking confused as if waiting for instructions.
“Y'all need to put them on. With the wind and all it gon' be cold as a witch's tit out there, 'specially after the sun go down. Them boots are for when we get to the island. Ground's pretty soft with the rain we been getting'.”
Blow passed a coat and pair of boots to Salzwedel, and both men removed their shoes and pulled the white rubber up their shins, tucking their pants inside. Rust, moving with catlike grace, climbed onto the pier and with a quick motion untied the line that secured the craft to the piling. He tossed the rope onto the deck, then grabbed the gunwale, swung one leg over and then the other and was back on the boat before it had drifted more than a couple of feet from the pier.
Sitting on the edge of the stern deck, Rust yanked a cord on the outboard behind him two or three times until the motor sprang to life with sputtering whine. He made some adjustments on the side of the motor's metal cover smoothing out the sputters, and then, facing the bow and with a hand on the motor's tiller behind him, he steered the boat away from the landing toward the wider expanse ahead.
“She's a little choppy out here today, boys,” he said as the boat began rocking through the lines of small waves that greeted them. They looked to Blow the kind of waves that were picturesque when seen from land, but now were less friendly as if challenging the boat to an ancient duel.
A frothing wake spread out behind the boat like a jet plane's contrails, giving Blow an illusion of speed greater than what it seemed when he looked forward toward a land mass on the horizon. With nothing stationary nearby with which to gauge their progress, it appeared their bobbing craft was making no headway at all.
“That Turtle Island?” Blow nodded toward the faraway land mass and looked back at Rust.
The old skipper's round face gleamed with wind-blown spray. He smiled. “That she is, Mr. Stone. She's 'bout a mile off. Won't take long. We'll be there afore dark.”
Blow nodded and turned to watch the approaching island, his view blocked only where Salzwedel sat to his front huddled into the canvas coat. Moved by the power of suggestion, Blow pulled his coat tighter around his shoulders as well.