Tempest at Sea

By: Iris Johansen

Chapter One.

IT WAS SHORTLY BEFORE MIDNIGHT WHEN the yellow Volkswagen drew to a surreptitious halt on the deserted dock. A sudden gust of wind swirled the light fog in gossamer wisps around the small car, and caused the three artificial daisies fastened to the antenna to bob with jaunty cheerfulness. The headlights flicked out and the two women occupants peered cautiously out the windshield at the dimly lit pier that was their destination.

"I told you it would be all right," Jane Smith said cheerfully, grinning at the older girl, in the driver's seat. "Les said there wouldn't be anyone around at this time of night. There's only one night watchman, and he doesn't make his rounds for another two hours."

Penny Lassiter shook her head in exasperation. "Good Lord, Jane, this is a private marina. We could be arrested for trespassing. As for what else you're planning, they'd probably lock you up and throw away the key." She ran her fingers worriedly through her glossy brown hair, as she made one last attempt to dissuade her friend from the reckless course she had chosen.

"Nonsense," Jane said sturdily. "It may be technically illegal, but it's not as if I'm going to do anything really criminal. I'm doing this only to make a statement and gain enough publicity so that our petition will gain momentum. Besides, Les says that if I'm caught, the court will probably let me off with just a warning. They're always lenient with student demonstrators."

Penny Lassiter arched her eyebrow skeptically. "If it's so safe, why doesn't Les Billings do the job himself instead of letting you take all the risks?"

Jane smothered a little sigh as she gazed at her friend's worried face. She knew that Penny had neither liked nor trusted Les Billings since he had joined their antinuclear society a few months before. Penny had a deep and sincere belief in what they were doing in trying to stop the building of the new nuclear power plant north of Miami, but Les Billings's ideas for accomplishing this aim were too radical and dangerous, in her estimation.

"Les couldn't be the one to do it," Jane explained patiently. "He was the one who went on board with the food delivery to case the ship. If anyone saw him, they might recognize him. It's much less likely that I'd be noticed."

"Case the ship?" Penny echoed incredulously. "My Lord, you even sound like an experienced second-story man." She bit her lip worriedly, her eyes on Jane's determined face. "Oh, damn, why did I have to let you become involved with this group at all? I should have known that you wouldn't be satisfied with marching or collecting signatures on a petition. You don't even know the meaning of halfway measures. You just rush in full speed ahead and think you can set the whole world right." She frowned. "Well, this is a little more serious than the collection of strays and derelicts you're always bringing home to the dorm. This could be big trouble."

"Yes, little mother," Jane said soothingly, "but it won't be, I promise you." She'd become used to Penny's maternal lectures in the year that they'd been roommates at the University of Miami, but she never made the mistake of becoming impatient or undervaluing the affection that provoked them. After losing her parents as a small child and living the gypsy life of an army brat under her grandfather's stern guardianship, she'd learned the hard way that love was a treasure that must never be taken for granted.

But Penny was steadily ignoring Jane's attempts to reassure her in this case. Her gaze was now traveling unhappily over Jane's petite figure, garbed in a black turtleneck sweater and dark jeans. Her small feet were encased in black canvas sneakers. In the black shapeless sweater, she looked nearer fifteen than twenty. "And you're insane if you think you won't be noticed and remembered if you're spotted on that yacht."

"Oh, but I've got that covered," Jane said mischievously, as she began tucking her short mass of curls beneath a black ribbed stocking cap. "Or I will have soon."

"I wasn't referring to your hair, damn it," Penny said in a thoroughly exasperated tone. She shrugged helplessly at Jane's disbelieving expression. It was a long-standing argument between them that Jane persisted in believing herself plain and insignificant, despite Penny's insistence to the contrary. Jane passionately hated the blazing red of her mop of silky hair that refused to do anything but curl riotously around her heart-shaped face, and she contemptuously referred to her strange golden eyes, framed in extravagant dark lashes, as "cat eyes." It was true that Jane's features, except for the huge eyes, were nondescript, but there was a certain tender curve to her lower lip and a mobile vitality to her expression that made them hauntingly memorable. In this case, dangerously so.