The beach was in darkness and the tide was coming in fast. A lone gull screeched a warning cry from high on the cliff. Panic threatened to overwhelm her. On the far side of the bay, near the old lighthouse, Stephanie could make out two beams of light. She pointed them out to her cousin Matt and together they began to run, their feet sloshing through the water and their flashlight beams bouncing in front of them.
Twice she stumbled in the uneven, shifting sand but both times she caught herself. Matt’s rugby fitness was paying off. He lengthened his stride and began racing ahead of her. Despite the wind, she heard a noise and glanced over her shoulder. Sure enough, behind them she could see two more flashlights. The anger she had felt since receiving his message suddenly gave way to fear. They were being followed.
Nearing the lighthouse, she glimpsed a small speedboat on the shoreline on the far side of the rocks. The waves rolling onto the beach were rocking it from side to side. Stephanie thought she heard crying but the sound was discarded by the wind before she could locate it. It was probably only the gulls roosting in the cliffs, calling to one another.
She rounded the end of the beach hot on Matt’s heels and clambered over the slippery wet rocks, momentarily glancing behind her again to see where their pursuers were. They were gaining. She pushed herself forward and grabbed Matt’s hand as he pulled her up over the final set of rocks. She started to climb towards the lighthouse, using her hands to support her on the steep grassy bank.
“Steph. Look!” Matt shouted.
She followed his gaze down to the beach. The boat was now in the water and a man was pulling at the outboard motor trying to start the engine. Behind him, huddled on a seat, she could just make out another smaller figure.
“Toby,” she screamed, changing direction and sliding down the bank towards the beach. She dropped her flashlight in the process and bent down to collect it as Matt reached the water’s edge. Suddenly the engine roared to life and the boat started to move away from the beach.
“You bastard. What about Toby?” Matt shouted. He stood with his legs apart and fists clenched, his fury palpable.
Stephanie caught up to him. The cold wind whipped thick strands of her long dark hair around her face. She impatiently pushed them aside as she stared out into the dark water at the boat, illuminated only by the silvery glow from the full moon and the beams from their flashlights.
“Thought I told you to come alone, Stephanie,” the man on the boat yelled. The boat rocked dangerously as he pulled Toby to his feet and pushed a life ring over his head. The young boy shrieked in terror as the man suddenly threw him overboard. Stephanie screamed as her little brother hit the water and momentarily disappeared into the trough of a wave.
Matt quickly shed his jacket, toed off his boots and dived into the water swimming towards Toby, who was bobbing in the waves. Stephanie pulled her overcoat tightly around her and watched helplessly as the boat turned and headed out to sea. Seconds later, Matt strode back out of the surf with Toby in his arms. She rushed to them, taking the cold, frightened boy in her arms and smothering him with kisses, all the while murmuring, “Thank God.” Toby hooked his arms and legs around her and clung like a monkey.
A loud bang followed by a gurgling noise, startled them. They looked up to see that the boat had stopped dead about a hundred metres off the beach. The engine choked and spluttered as the man tried to start it again. Matt swore under his breath and turned and ran back into the water.
“Matt, no,” Stephanie shouted. But Matt was already swimming towards the stricken boat.
Toby was shivering. Stephanie gently set him down and pulled the life ring down over his hips and legs and wrapped him in her coat. As she fumbled in her jeans pocket for her phone a noise behind them caught her attention. She had forgotten about the men following them. Terrified, she stood with her back to the ocean, protecting Toby with her body. But the people sliding down the grassy bank towards her were not her enemies. She breathed a sigh of relief. James and Andy.
“Help Matt,” she said, looking up at them.
“Where is he?” James asked, flicking his long fringe out of his eyes. He ruffled Toby’s hair and ran the back of his fingers gently down Stephanie’s cheek.
“There.” She pointed with her flashlight.
They looked to the water to see Matt clamber aboard the speedboat and try to wrestle control from the man. They were evenly matched for size, both tall and broad-shouldered, but Matt had the element of surprise.
“Are you okay?” James asked, his eyes full of concern. She nodded and leaned into him as he wrapped his arms around her and Toby.
Andy ran a hand through his blond curls and cursed under his breath. He quickly pulled off his boots, coat and scarf. He dived into the waves and began swimming towards the two men fighting on the boat. They were exchanging blows, each staggering back, but somehow keeping their balance, until the man delivered a hard punch to Matt’s stomach which doubled him over, followed by an uppercut to his jaw. Matt tumbled backwards over the side of the boat. Stephanie screamed his name as he hit the water with a loud splash and didn’t resurface.
James dumped his jacket and boots on the sand beside Stephanie and raced into the water to join Andy. Stephanie held Toby tight.
The outboard motor suddenly restarted and within seconds the boat disappeared out to sea. On the horizon Stephanie could just see the lights of a much larger vessel.
Time slowed. A cloud passed in front of the moon, plunging the beach into further darkness. In the distance, Stephanie heard the wail of police sirens. She silently urged them to hurry.
She could hear Andy and James desperately calling Matt’s name. The wind was carrying their voices, but now through the dark churning water she couldn’t see them either. After what seemed like an eternity the cloud passed and the beach was once again bathed in the glow from the moon.
About twenty metres away, Stephanie saw a large shape wash up on the beach. It took her several seconds to comprehend what she was seeing. She gently released Toby and stumbled towards it. Matt was lying face down in the sand, water lapping around his waist and tugging him back into the ocean with each new pull of the tide.
“He’s here, he’s here,” she screamed, tucking her hands under his arms and with an enormous effort pulling him free of the water and rolling him over. He wasn’t breathing. Her first aid training kicked in. Falling to her knees, she rolled him onto his side, stuck her finger in his slack mouth and pulled out a hunk of seaweed. Letting him fall onto his back, she began chest compressions—one, two, three. She tilted his chin and pinched his nose, breathing into his mouth—one, two, three. She repeated the process as Toby crawled over and snuggled beside her, whimpering quietly.
Andy and James emerged from the ocean, exhausted and shivering.
“He’s not breathing,” she shouted, panic evident in her voice.
“Keep going,” Andy urged, dropping onto the sand opposite her and placing his fingers on the pulse point in Matt’s neck. “I’ll take over when you get tired. James, call an ambulance.”
“Already on it.” James retrieved his mobile from his jacket and dialled. He immediately started speaking to the dispatcher. He sank down beside Stephanie and pulled Toby into his arms. “It’s all right, I’ve got you,” he whispered with chattering teeth to the frightened boy, who was watching his sister, wide-eyed.
“Call Mum,” Stephanie asked between breaths. She was tiring and the cold was beginning to seep into her bones.
Matt wasn’t responding. With Andy’s help, Stephanie rolled him back over onto his side to check his airway again. More seawater spilled from his mouth. She ran her hand gently over his short hair and checked his mouth. There were no further obstructions. She rolled him back and continued to do CPR.
“Come on, Matt,” she urged. “Breathe.”
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