Acts of Nature

ONE

I have my arms around her, my chest pressed into her back, the tops of my thighs against her hamstrings, and I can feel a vibration from deep inside of her. Or maybe it is my own trembling. She has been quiet for what seems like an hour now, but time is hard to judge. There should be heat building from our shared body temperatures, so close together. But instead of a trickle of sweat between my shoulder blades there is a feeling of coldness on the back of my neck. It is a reaction that I recognize from too many police ops and I don’t have to ask Sherry if she is feeling the same thing. Clinging together against the kitchen counter in this unfamiliar Everglades encampment, we are about as physically close as a man and woman can be but it has nothing to do with love at the moment and everything to do with fear.

“Jesus, Max,” she says when yet another violent crack, louder and more menacing than a rifle shot, rips the air inside the one-room cabin and we can only assume another piece of the structure has peeled off the roofline or the southern wall. Another gust of unholy wind attacks and the entire place shudders and the creak of wood twisting against its own grain sounds like an animal’s whine.

“Jesus.”

I squeeze Sherry harder, the muscles of my arms starting to ache from holding her so tightly but I cannot help it.

“She’ll hang together, babe,” I say yet again, maybe trying to convince myself as much as Sherry. We have already heard parts of the second building or maybe the deck planking itself come ripping off, hard-bitten nails screeching as they were yanked at an angle from the trusses. We have heard sheets of the tin roofing being peeled off by the fingers of the wind and sent flipping away with the almost musical waffling sound of an old flopping saw blade and then the cymbal crash of it smashing against something.

“She’ll hold together,” I say again.

But it is not the sharp collisions or heavy cracks that make me doubt my own words. It is that humming, the low throb of the wind that makes it sound like it comes from the deep bowels of an enormous beast. It has been getting deeper for the last hour and I know that we are in the middle of one hell of a hurricane.

I have been stupid before, but never so blissfully.

For the past week, Sherry Richards and I had been treating ourselves to a late fall of isolation and escape that most South Floridians and perhaps most of civilized North America would think impossible in the first decade of the new millennium. Sherry’s a cop. Some might say too obsessed, too dedicated, and too hard-edged. Some might fall back on that knee-jerk explanation that a woman has to be that way to make it in her profession. Those some are the ones who don’t know her. I know her.

“I’m taking ten days off starting the eighteenth of October,” she announced one morning at a staff meeting of the major crimes division of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, where she is a detective.

Heads turned. Eyebrows rose. Questions spilled forthwith. Her answers were curt and simple:

“Vacation.”

“Can’t tell you where.”

“No. I’ll be unavailable by phone or radio.”

“Diaz has my back on ongoing cases.”

“None of your business.”

She left the care of her home in Fort Lauderdale to a young woman named Marci whom she had managed to rescue from a serial abuser and killer several months ago. After that case Sherry