Raine, Raine Went Away
It was early June on Elbow Cay in Abacos, years before Hurricane Dorian blew through the Bahamas and left its deadly calling card. On the docks of Hopetown Marina, workers cocked their heads as they listened to penetrating screams from somewhere across the water. Though the words were unintelligible, desperation was evident in the woman’s voice, entreating one moment, mewling the next. The calm Bahamian waters acted as a conduit for the cries, startling the charter crews and fishermen, along with the patrons of a nearby inn, frequented by dedicated anglers and wealthy charterers. That sort of commotion was not the norm for a milieu usually punctuated with goombay music and cheery banter among the crew. Their workday consisted of restocking and scrupulously scrubbing expensive fishing vessels.
Gradually a sport-fisher emerged on the horizon fit with outriggers and a tuna tower. It was skippered by someone on the flybridge, who suddenly and inexplicably gave the horn an appalling, ear-shattering blow.
A crewmember mopping the teak deck of a large yacht said, “It seem like it come from that boat there. Look like a Hatteras. What you think, boss?”
His boss, the harbormaster known as Bonefish Rudy, was gray-haired with skin so dark it had long ago become impervious to the sun. He stopped writing in a logbook and squinted. “Who’s skippering that boat? Anybody know it?”
A dockhand answered, “I never seen that boat. Could be somebody in trouble.”
As the forty-eight-foot boat approached, Rudy used a bullhorn and yelled, “Slow that thing down. This is a no-wake zone!”
The gears grinded and sputtered and the craft slowed, but the approach promised a collision with the dock.
His patience waning, Rudy commanded the skipper. “Push back the throttle and use your bow thrusters, mon.” Then he saw her. Intent on controlling the outlandish docking procedure, he had failed to notice the source of the distressing sounds.
“Sweet Jesus,” he muttered. He leapt on the boat’s bow as it grazed the dock. A gasp went up from the bystanders.
There, lashed to the bow with nylon ski ropes, was a woman completely naked. She was whimpering and trying to turn away from the dock and its frozen onlookers.
“Throw me a towel,” Rudy growled to a dockhand. Removing his large T-shirt, he gently laid it over the woman. Then using a knife he used for bait, he cut the nylon ties, comforting the woman as he worked.
“It’s all right, pretty lady; you’ll be fine. Gonna get you off here in just a minute.”
The distraught woman, now a shivering lump, huddled under the shirt. Rudy, still gathering his wits, secured the bow of the boat and grabbed the ragged towel a mate threw him.
Moving back to the woman, he said, “Here you go, miss. Put your arms in this shirt, and we’ll use the towel like a skirt. You ready?”
The woman had trouble standing. Shielding her from an incredulous crowd, Rudy helped her into his shirt and secured the towel around her waist. He noted a deep sunburn on her thighs. The woman was dry heaving, her jaw was slack, and her lips were parched and swollen.
“Just lean on me, now,” Rudy said, and he led her to the side of the bow and told her to wait until he was on the dock. He gently held her hand. Just then, the man skippering the fishing boat began his descent from the flybridge. He struggled with each step. Before stepping onto the dock, he doubled over with laughter, then fell back against the boat’s stainless-steel stairs. Something was very wrong, and Rudy suspected booze or drugs, or both.
“Ahoy, mon,” the appalling man grinned, slurring his words. “How’s that for a gamefish?”
The woman snapped her head around at the sound of his voice, then looked back at the dock. Terror filled her cry. “No, No!” She hurled herself away from the bow, but her balance was off, and she crashed hard onto the rough edge of the wooden planks.
With a gaping leg wound and skinned elbows, she crawled on all fours, dragging the towel around her waist. A trail of blood and anguish followed. Rudy hopped from the bow and yelled to a crewmember, “Get an ambulance.”
The Hatteras’ skipper called to the woman, “Sweetheart, it’s okay, I’m coming.”
There was no response from sweetheart. Rudy caught up to her and tenderly rewrapped the towel, then rolled her over and secured a life vest under her head. He sought to stop the blood flow from her shin as her head lolled and a slow moan escaped. A siren sounded in the distance, and Rudy stroked the woman’s matted hair and made sure she was covered from her neck to the top of her pink-polished toes. He grimaced at the red marks left on her wrists and ankles.
In all his years as harbormaster, Rudy had never seen such a sight. Lots of riffraff passed through the Bahamas—anything was possible. But there was something about this woman that soured his soul. She could have been his daughter. His beautiful Esmeralda, wooed by a flashy suitor who took her in the night, neither to be seen again.
Rudy held the woman’s head and offered her sips of water. “No worry, missy; Rudy’ll take care of you.” His rough, calloused hand took the woman’s manicured one and tucked it under the towel.
Bristling with rage, Rudy shouted again, “Where’s that ambulance?”
Clutching a wooden cross around his neck, he stared down at the tormented woman and prayed.