By Jean Wolfersteig
Gaby circled north toward the lighthouse, let the boat fall off the wind, and swept the sails on either side of the mast like a swan—wings unfurled. With a fifteen-knot breeze blowing from the southeast, the boat skated the Hudson River, rising and falling over whitecaps, spraying water across the bow. She loved the challenge of keeping both sails filled from behind, holding the course without lurching into an uncontrolled jibe.
A memory surfaced from her lost life—a Georgia O’Keeffe painting of a sailboat running downwind with the foresail spread out opposite the mainsail. Dark brown sails that contrasted eerily with blue skies and puffy white clouds, as if O’Keeffe divined some calamity unforeseen by the person at the helm.
Gaby shuddered, and her thoughts turned to the man below deck. She’d best loop back before Jeffrey caught her. He claimed he’d taken her sailing because she’d behaved so well. But really, it was to prove to her just how much he was in control. If he discovered her having fun with her favorite point of sail, he’d punish her. Never take her sailing again.
She lost concentration, and the breeze died, sending the sails snapping and clanking about the mast in irons. She’d screwed up. No matter how hard she torqued the rudder, the bow wouldn’t budge.
Jeffrey thrust his head into the cockpit. “What’s happening?”
“I can’t turn the wheel.”
He eyed the boat leaning on its side. “Stupid cow! We’re on the sandbar! I’ll clip your wings good this time.”
“Sorry,” Gaby whispered. She made herself sick. Groveling for approval, toadying for food. She wanted her old self back—her courage, her will to fight.
Gauging the distance through the mudflats to the shore, she pressed her lips together and swallowed. The cotter pin she’d hidden in her mouth sliced into her cheek.
“Don’t imagine you’ll win any help. I’ll tie you up in the cabin and duct tape your smart mouth shut,” Jeffrey sneered. He reached for the radio.
Alarm bloomed in her chest, breath galloping, the taste of metal lodging in her throat. If she allowed him to make the call, Sea Tow would pilot across the channel, pop the boat’s keel from the mud, and wriggle her hull off her perch—and Gaby would return to captivity in a damp, windowless basement. Worse, this could be the day Jeffrey made good on his promise to kill her.
She grabbed a winch handle and swung.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Jeffrey shrieked, blocking the wallop. He twisted a sail tie around her neck and pulled it tight.
She choked and spit the cotter pin into the air. Seconds from passing out, O’Keeffe’s painting floated through her mind. With nothing to lose, she dropped the mainsail sheet: five times the size of a baseball bat, the boom flipped like a toothpick in the wind.
Thwack! The spar missed her by an inch but connected with Jeffrey’s skull, sending him into the drink. He lay face down in the river.
But the cotter pin had landed on the lazarette, unreachable with her ankle shackled to the wheel pedestal.
She planted her feet wide and rocked the boat, keeping her head down. The cotter pin slid close enough to grab. She bent the pin open and jiggled it back and forth in the lock. After a few swipes, the latch sprang clear, and she slipped her foot from the cuff. She rubbed at her bone.
Hurrying below, she riffled through Jeffrey’s hiding places for cash, then slithered over the side of the boat. The water came to her waist, her knees, her ankles. Soon, she was in the woods, following the tracks to the Rhinecliff Train Station.
They’d find his boat and her ankle iron. They’d search his house and discover the cage in the basement teeming with her DNA. They’d dig up the yard, imagining her dead. Once upon a time, when she was naïve, she’d have gone home. But they’d want to know how she escaped, how he died. She’d be heading straight into the wind, in irons, again.
Better to be free.
She opened her arms, lifting her heart to the sky and laughed until she cried. She wasn’t her old self—she’d never be that again—but she had a strong wind behind her, running wing and wing. And with the tide flowing south at six miles an hour, Jeffrey had wings, too. He just might beat her to New York City.