Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT by Laura Thomas
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9/ Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 17/ Chapter 18
THE TANGERINE SUN TOUCHED THE horizon and Luke’s shoulders slumped.
Lord, I could do with some major assistance here. Nine glass bottom boats so far, and all of them in use and authentic. What do I do next?
He glanced down at the list of boats from Nathan and compared it to the map on the seat beside him. There were eleven still to check out.
He massaged the crook in his neck. “This is useless.”
Most beaches were empty, and lights twinkled as guests sat down for their evening meals in oceanfront restaurants. Luke’s energy and optimism were fading as fast as the remaining light. He reached over and checked the compartment next to the steering wheel. Yes, a flashlight. He would be needing that for sure.
Where on earth could Madison be? Was he wasting time cruising along the shoreline? The next beach came into sight. There didn’t appear to be a resort here—just a few restaurants, private homes, and several boats anchored. A quick break sounded like a good idea, and it wouldn’t hurt to check with any locals.
Luke pulled in, lassoed the boat’s rope to the bollard on the dock, and secured it. He sank back onto the uncomfortable hard plastic seat and bowed his head.
“Lord, give me faith and patience and a whole bunch of energy. A guardian angel would be perfect, too.”
Grateful for the stash of water bottles in his boat, he grabbed one and cut the engine. This day was proving to be emotionally and physically grueling, and it was far from over. Good thing he’d slept in this morning. No, scrap that—if he hadn’t slept in, perhaps Madison wouldn’t have been kidnapped and they wouldn’t be in this nightmare. He twisted the bottle lid and took a swig. Did Madison have water wherever she was? He took another gulp. He would need a surge of energy when he found her. If he found her.
Luke looked up and noticed a boat tied to the other side of the dock farther down. An older gentleman in a Yankees baseball cap waved to him…from a glass bottom boat. His heart skipped a beat. How had he missed that when he pulled in?
Waving back, Luke stood and picked up another water bottle to share before leaping onto the dock for a closer look.
No, this boat was not a contender. No way. He forced himself to keep his smile steady. He noted the logo to strike from his list. The ancient vessel was out of action for the foreseeable future. It was run down and in desperate need of a coat of paint. On deck, the shirtless man scrubbed at the bench seats.
“Hi there.” Luke leaned against a wooden post on the dock. “Beautiful evening.”
“Sure is. You American?”
“I am.” Luke sipped the last of his water. “Seattle originally. I’m a missionary in Mexico now. I’m guessing you’re New York?”
The man laughed. “The name’s Joe. Been living here twenty years and still can’t get rid of the accent.”
“Luke Alexander. Pleased to meet you.” Luke offered the water bottle. Joe caught it in his tanned, weathered hands and grinned. One gold tooth gleamed in the fading sunlight. It was like meeting a real-life cartoon character.
Joe twisted open the lid. “A missionary, you say? That’s fantastic. I’m a churchgoing man myself. Got quite the lively little church in this village.”
Another believer? Grateful for the momentary distraction, Luke collapsed onto the wooden dock and dangled his feet in the refreshing water. Heavenly. A two-minute break was just what he needed. “Awesome. What brought you to Jamaica to live? It’s a big step.”
“Fell in love with the place when I first visited years ago. The people, the natural beauty, the laid-back lifestyle—what’s not to love? I owned a boat shop for years back in the US and decided to sell up and live out my days in a place where sunshine is like air. You on vacation?”
Luke felt a nudge in his spirit to share more than water with this man. “My brother’s wedding. Listen. This is going to sound kind of strange, but I’m looking for a different glass bottom boat. It’s a long story, but it’s urgent. We’re staying up at the Royal House Resort, and we believe the boat’s been moored there for several days, but now it’s disappeared. I have to find it and feel like I’m on a wild-goose chase. I don’t suppose you’ve seen an unfamiliar vessel around here?”
Joe stroked his bristly beard. “I have a feeling I don’t want to know why you’re chasing a glass bottom boat, but I think I might know who it is you’re looking for.”
“Really?” Skin prickled on Luke’s arms. “Tell me anything you think of. Any detail at all may be imperative.”
Joe lunged from the old boat and perched on the dock alongside Luke. He wore the same cheap aftershave as Luke’s dad. The familiarity was comforting.
“A couple of Americans were here a few weeks back asking about my boat. They wanted to fix it up and rent it for a week or two.”
Luke sat up straight. “Go on.”
“I explained it would take quite a lot of fixing. She’s been out of action for a while and needed a sabbatical. They offered a lot of cash, and tempting as it was, this is my baby, you know? I enjoy working on her and puttering around. It’s more a labor of love. I’m in no hurry. She goes with nobody else but me.”
“Did they say where they would be taking it?” He held his breath.
Joe gulped back a drink of water and gazed across the darkening ocean.
“Hmm. Not that I remember. They were pushy. Made me real uncomfortable.” He shuddered.
“Uncomfortable how, if you don’t mind me asking?” Luke sat on his hands. Joe was taking his own sweet time compiling his recollections. Patience. Any hints could be vital at this point.
“It seems to me like there was one with the brains and one with the brawn, if you get my drift. Brains was a real charmer, although he was none too pleased when I turned him down. There was something strange about Brawn, though.” The elderly man removed his baseball cap and scratched his balding head. “That’s it—his eyes. He took off those real dark sunglasses and he had the most menacing eyes I ever saw in my life. Gave me the willies, it did.”
Luke nodded. “Icy blue kind of thing happening?”
“Yeah, icy, all right. I got the chills looking at him.” He squeezed his water bottle.
“I’ve heard about those eyes. These are the men I’m looking for. Are you sure they didn’t give you any hint as to where they would be staying or mooring the boat?”
“No, I’m sorry. Wish I could be more helpful.”
Luke dragged his fingers through his hair. Really? Another dead end?
Joe slid his baseball cap back on and swigged more water. “But I guess they found their boat after all.”
Luke’s breath caught in his throat. “Why do you say that?”
“I recognized them sailing past here this morning.”
“What?” Luke jumped up to his feet. “Do you remember what time?”
“I would say early.” He squinted. “Maybe between eight and eight thirty, after my breakfast. I always treat myself to eggs and bacon on a Monday morning. Always have, always will. Afterwards, I came down here to work on this beauty, and there they were, sailing right past. I know every single glass bottom boat on this side of the island, and every owner, too. I have my binoculars right here, so I checked them out. These two bozos stood out like a sore thumb. They’re not your typical locals, if you know what I mean.”
Luke punched the air with his fist. Thank You, God. “Finally, something. I’m on the right track. You have been more than helpful. I guess they were heading east, then?”
“Sure were.” He pointed to his right. “Thataway.”
Luke shook his head. “This is amazing.” But he needed as much information as possible. “Did you notice anyone else on the boat by any chance? A girl maybe?”
Joe waggled his eyebrows. “It’s always about the girl, isn’t it, young man?”
Luke shifted from one foot to the other. “It’s not like that.” He bit his lip.
“No, it never is. Sorry. I can’t say I noticed a third person aboard. Anyway, I hope you find the boat, son. And your girl.”
“Me too. She’s not my girl.” At least not yet. “But she’s a special young lady and I’ll go to the ends of the earth to find her.” Luke’s cheeks flamed as his spirit confirmed how revealing his words were.
“Why do you say she’s not your girl?”
Luke cringed. This guy is not shy, and I don’t think he’s going to let up.
“The single life has served me well on the mission field. Helped me to focus on what God wants me to do without distractions.”
“Up until now?” Joe’s gold tooth flashed as he spoke. “Listen, son. I never thought I would marry. Not the marrying type. Had my faith, my boats, and my golden retriever. What else does a man need?”
Luke shrugged. I’m starting to think there is something else. Someone else.
“And then she walked into church one Sunday morning. She was new to town and fresh as a daisy. She turned my head, and then she turned my world upside down.”
Luke was in a desperate hurry, but this guy knew how to tell a story. “Did you marry her?”
“Best twenty years a man could ask for. Went on home to glory way too soon, but I wouldn’t swap my time as a husband for all the tea in China.”
“She passed away? I’m so sorry, Joe. How long ago, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Twenty years, six months, and three days.”
“And then you moved out here.”
“You have to embrace whatever life throws at you, son. See the blessings as exactly that—blessings. Take them and enjoy them for as long as He sees fit.”
Luke held out a hand, and the old man shook it with vigor.
“Find your girl, son.” Joe’s light gray eyes bored into Luke’s.
“I intend to.” Was that a solemn vow to find Madison? About his future?
“I’ll say a prayer for her, particularly if she’s with those guys. I’ll be praying for you, too.”
“Thanks so much.” Luke jogged back to his speedboat. “I have a feeling I’m going to need it.”
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