The Draft Version of The Lark. Chapter Three

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This is a romantic suspense story involving crime, love, enemies to lovers and all kinds of drama!

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The Lark – Chapter Three – No Chance

Salty sea dog, John Wilson, bird man, fisherman, and yacht sailor, sits at the tiller of his motorboat with his first coffee of the day, watching the girls fishing nearby. The previous night, he had watched all four on Lark Song pull down the mainsail and stow it before eating dinner on the deck. Now the soft summer breeze vibrates the metal stays of their yacht. The sweet sound of sailing makes him smile. He misses the deep ocean racing of his youth and still holds the record for the fastest time in his division for the annual classic yacht race. He reaches down to check the fuel gauge, reminding himself to call MNZ-Maritime radio service for the weather forecast before pulling up anchor after lunch.

At this same instant, a massive explosion smashes through the air, the sound waves startle John as he swings around with a jolt, staring agape at Lark Song. It explodes into a thousand shards of timber, steel, tattered and smoking sail cloth, littering the surface of the ocean swell. An enormous black cloud of acrid smoke shoots into the air.

Breathless, John clambers to the front of his boat and clasps his cell phone, calling in the emergency. Within seconds he presses the automatic anchor haul, dials the mayday radio rescue frequency to alert the coast guard and flicks on the engine. His diesel engine shrieks into action as he swerves the skiff in the opposite direction and heads for the remains of the burning yacht. Outside the main drift of the crushed and smoking boat debris, he can just make out the rear half of the girl’s dinghy floating amongst charred pieces of the yacht’s hull, with some bits aflame in the ocean swell. His heart races. John speeds at full throttle towards the broken dinghy. Moments later, he spots one of the orange life jackets and identifies the two girls clinging onto the back of the tiny dinghy’s upside-down hull.

The small boat has flipped with the force of the explosion. There is no other sound apart from the crackling fire and the burning smell of gas and fuel. When John positions the skiff alongside the girls’ boat, he turns the engine off and drops anchor.

‘I’ll throw a rope or an oar and pull you onboard,’ he shouts in panic.

He wasn’t sure if he should grab the girls first or search for the two adults who were on board the destroyed and burning yacht. The smoking deck is now level with the water’s surface. What should he do? If the parents are seriously injured, then every second matters.

The younger girl whimpers, tears rolling down her scratched and bleeding face.

The older one shouts. ‘Go to the yacht!’ She points a shaking arm towards the remains of Lark Song. ‘Our mother and father are over there!’

He is so close to the girl, he can almost touch her and choses to ignore her instructions.

‘Here.’ He points one wooden oar at the girls. ‘Get your sister to hold tight and I’ll pull her in.’ Laura clasps the paddle end, passing it to Grace. Still crying, the younger child clutches onto the oar with both hands as John drags her through the water towards his boat and hauls her in over the side. He sits her down with a heavy thump, rocking the boat.

‘Don’t move!’ he instructs the injured young girl.

He lifts the oar up and reaches it out once more. Laura clings to the flat wooden paddle as John pulls her towards the side of his motorboat. Once she grips the side, he flings the oar to the deck and grabs Laura under both arms, pulling her over the side and into the skiff. Breathless, John realises he must stop. He leans forward, placing his hands on his knees, gasping for air. He looks up into Laura’s stricken face. A large bleeding cut runs down from the outside corner of her right eye towards her jawline. Blood is rushing from the wound, down her neck and soaking into her clothing.

‘I’ll get something,’ he says, noticing their orange life jackets pockmarked with melted holes and burn marks where shrapnel from the explosion has hit both girl’s life preservers. It has scattered cuts and burns over their limbs too. None are as serious as Laura’s bleeding face. He strides to the dry storage box, reaches in and snatches a hand towel lying folded on top of the wet weather gear.

The two sisters huddle together when John returns with a woollen blanket and the small clean towel.
‘Press this hard against your face. It’ll slow the bleeding.’

He shakes out the tartan blanket and drapes it over their shoulders. The girls tremble with shock. Laura keeps her arm around her sister, holding Grace close against her own body.

John revs the engine and speeds towards the smoking debris. He has to slow the motor to dodge large pieces of foam rubber, timber and strangled wire railings, with a few still fastened to pieces of the deck frame and gnarled chrome stanchions.

A body floats in the water to the right of John’s motorboat. It’s the sister’s mother. Her short blonde hair splays out like a halo around her bleeding head, face down in the water. He notices it’s a bleeding torso and glances around at Laura’s horrified face before the older sister pulls Grace’s head closer into her own neck. He looks away and moves the boat around the debris where a man’s forearm floats past with a watch still attached to his wrist.

He must get away. Both parents are dead, and the girls need help. As he motors beyond the flaming yacht hull, the noise of helicopter blades slice through the air, growing louder. It’s the Coastguard Rescue chopper. John weaves his way out of the mass of broken yacht pieces and races towards the beach. There’s a small gathering of people standing on the beach, anxiously waiting for his arrival. The flashing lights of an ambulance parked on the waterfront roadway guides him to shore. Both girls remain silent, their eyes fixed in horror at what they witnessed.

‘Did you see them?’ Laura asks John, her face pale with fear as they near the wharf. She already knows the answer. John is unable to say another word. She looks away.

He turns the throttle on the tiller and drives the engine harder.

The rescue helicopter flies twice around the wreck before speeding towards the beach. The Coastguard calls over the radio.

‘Have you got all four?’ the voice crackles across the radio’s private rescue channel.

‘Nope. Just two kids.’

‘Three paramedics are ready for them. Head for the beach, they’ll take it from there.’

‘Okay. Thanks. Out.’

John turns the boat thirty-degrees and heads for the shore. He speeds up into the shallows where several people run towards the boat and seize the girls. Paramedics stationed on the beach check vitals and set up intravenous drips, placing an oxygen mask over Grace’s face. A senior medic attends to Laura’s deep wound, a large open gash, leaking blood down her neck and shoulders. He cleans the deep cut and presses a thick wad of gauze over it, staunching the blood flow.

‘This will need a few stitches,’ he comments to the dazed and shocked young teenager.

A small group of locals stand beside John congratulating him on his presence of mind and quick action, saving the lives of the Larkson sisters.

John watches, frozen in disbelief. Numbed by the scene. He looks towards the sea where Lark Song had stood proudly only minutes earlier. There is nothing left. He feels nauseous and dizzy. He squeezes the shoulder of a bystander, surprised to discover it’s his friend and neighbour, Glen Watson.

‘What?’ he says, his body sinking into shock.

‘Take it easy, mate,’ Glen clutches John’s elbow. ‘You’re amazing,’ Glen says, patting John on the back. ‘It’s incredible and thanks to you, they’re alive.’

‘It’s a miracle. If you’d seen it out there. Everything smashed to smithereens. It was just dumb luck I was there, close enough to get to them before they drowned. Saw bits of bodies, but there’s no sign the parents are alive. Awful.’

‘Here, come over here and sit down. I texted Grant to bring down a tray of hot tea. You’ll need it. You look as white as a ghost.’

John slumps onto the large log. It beached at the high tide mark some years ago and is a handy seat for anyone watching swimmers and boats drift by. A hand passes him a mug of tea and he nods with an awkward grin and takes a sip.

‘Did you know it was Lark’s Song?’ Glen asks, sitting beside his friend.

‘In the panic, I wasn’t sure and didn’t see the full name on the hull,’ John speaks hesitantly, registering these two girls were the Larkson sisters. ‘ Hell’s teeth… the sisters.’

Grant tilts his head. ‘Yeah, Laura and Grace. I hope to God they pull through.’ The bearded older man takes another sip of his tea.

‘Those kids would be around twelve and eight, something like that.’

‘Yeah,’ John says. ‘What’s going to happen to them now with their parents gone?’

After they recover from the boating accident, the sisters live with an uncle and aunt in Auckland for five years, but it was no easy upbringing. Their uncle was unhappy with the arrangement and he often argues with his wife about raising the orphaned sisters.

‘Your brother needs to sell the farm and place them in boarding school,’ his reddened face contorts with frustration over some minor transgression. ‘I never signed up for two extra brats to look after. This can’t go on.’

Laura watches her distressed aunt’s face barely visible through the crack in the bedroom door where both sisters share a bunk. ‘Come on Tom. We had no choice,’ her voice pleads with him, her words the usual repetitive chorus heard many times over the past four years. ‘No one can afford to send them to boarding school and it won’t be for much longer. Laura will soon be old enough to care for Grace at the farm.’

His puffy face looks up from the armchair jammed in the corner of their cramped living room. ‘Do you think so? It’ll be a bloody miracle if we get them standing on their own feet.’

The mention of Laura being old enough to move with Grace back to the farm is an idea she has never considered. Hope of freedom from the oppressive bickering of her relatives and living in the backwash of her uncle’s anger and her aunt’s submission delivers a light-bulb moment. In the following months Laura discusses the situation with her father’s best friend and lawyer, Milton Tompson, who set about arranging legal guardianship for Laura over her younger sister ,Grace. It takes nineteen months to complete the documents but at last the sisters can return home and take charge of their own lives.

When Laura turns twenty-one, she signs final documents to give notice to the tenants in their parent’s farmhouse and obtain legal guardianship over her teenage sister before they both move back into their parent’s property at Larkson Bay.

Their parent’s life insurance and the tenant’s rental payments paid off most of their mortgage on the forty-acre farm, but they still need money to pay for food, power and petrol, along with Grace university fees and the ability to pay back her student loan. Laura gazes out of the kitchen window across the orchard, fruit trees heavy with peaches, apples and plums ready to harvest. After several weeks Laura agrees to sells off half the land, twenty acres, to an adjoining dairy farmer with the proceeds covering their debts and living costs for the next couple of years.

‘Is it a good thing?’ Grace asks her sister when the property transfer documents are handed to the sisters.