It was over. The long months of planning, the hours of waiting, and the final wild rush of adrenalin were taking their toll. She sank back and let the tension drain from her rigid muscles. Feeling desperately tired, she gulped mouthfuls of the salt-laden air. Her body ached, and a sharp pain hammered above her right eye. Gradually her breathing steadied and her heart’s wild pounding slowed. Grasping the edge of her seat, she pulled herself upright, knuckles showing white on suntanned hands. Then she looked over the side.
The first violent surge was now a circle of waves moving sedately away from the boat in an ever-widening circle. The wild explosion of bubbles that had churned the surface moments before was now a silver trace rising gently from the depths like the bubbles in a glass of fine champagne. Unable to drag her eyes away, she stared, fascinated, as the bubbles grew smaller and further apart. The tiny silver thread grew thinner and thinner, until the last elongated bubble broke the surface and vanished. Still she sat, staring at the spot, waiting.
The boat climbed up the long Pacific swell, anchor line taut against the current pulling with savage force beneath the surface. Attracted by the disturbance, two gulls swooped low, expecting to find a thrashing shoal of fish. Disappointed, they wheeled back to their original line of flight. A gull bobbing beside the boat, waiting for scraps of bait, squawked angrily at the intruders, neck arched and orange beak wide. The strident noise jangled her taut nerves, and the spell was broken; finally she could pull her eyes
away from the place where the body had submerged. Standing up slowly, like an old, tired woman, she took one last look over the side and began to ready the boat.
Going through the familiar routine, checking the gas tank, packing the picnic basket in the half cabin and reeling in her line, she began to feel better. Noting with strange detachment that her bait was untouched, she picked up a knife, cut it from the Black Magic hook, and threw it to the waiting gull. A small piece of fish clung to her fingers, and in an instinctive gesture, she leaned over the side to wash it off. At the last instant before her hand touched the water, she drew back and shuddered.
By the time the anchor was up and the engine coughing, the sun was sinking behind the hills that ringed the distant beach. With eyes narrowed against the late evening glare, she eased the throttle forward, watching the revolutions climb until the boat was planing swiftly toward the bay. The wind whipped the hair back from her face, revealing a weary frown, but a satisfied smile touched the corners of her mouth.
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