In the Watches of the Morning

Wheeler woke up feeling out of sorts and sore in his joints, which usually meant that a storm of some kind was on its way – only it’d just finished a big blow and they were due for a couple of days of clear weather – which meant in its own way that there was probably trouble heading down the pike.

He caught sight of the boat while he was polishing the big lens. He liked polishing the lens, liked the quiet importance of the task as much as the view it offered him out over the Sound toward the Islands. He saw the boat in the lens first and watched it while he kept polishing, waiting for some flicker of movement or purposefulness that would mean somebody was steering it. So far as he could tell it was just floating with the tide. “Yeah,” he said, and rubbed his knees ruefully. “Trouble.”

It took him two hours to finish polishing the lens and the boat was no more than a quarter mile out when he was done, so he took his battered old diesel out to take a closer look. It was riding pretty high in the water, especially for such a little craft, too high if there was anyone on it, except maybe a real little kid out joyriding. Wheeler wanted it to be some local Islander brat, but his whole body throbbed with prophecy, and he couldn’t convince himself it wasn’t anything other than a rumrun gone sour.

No one came up to his hail. No one stirred when he came aboard. The boat rocked under his feet as he went down the ladder into the cramped and boozy cabin. There was no one there, just a magazine, pages wet and sticky, and a man’s hat, upside-down and half-full of mostly congealed blood. Wheeler wrapped his arms around his ribs and squeezed, breath short and galactic with pain. “Trouble,” he gasped.