Today's Reading

CHAPTER 1

Rockport, Massachusetts

Friday, October 22, 5:01 p.m.

THE HURRICANE THREAT shouldn't have consumed Parker Buckman's thoughts like it did. The thing would make landfall hundreds of miles away from where he lived. But it wasn't so much 'where' the storm was headed that had him on edge. It was 'who' was in its path.

The way Parker saw it, tropical storms were nothing short of nature playing the bully. And bullies rarely worked alone. Even storms traveled with six henchmen. Frequent flyers on an unholy voyage. Blinding rain. Shrieking winds. Behemoth waves. Dark clouds thick enough to veil any trace of the sun—or the hope it brings. Confusion is their wingman. And if you're unfortunate enough to be too close when the pack stalks through, you'll surely meet the sixth of the storm's cohorts. The one you never want to face. Sheer terror.

The six of them formed the kind of gang that had the power to change lives—or end them. And right now, they were flexing and elbowing their way toward land—and an old friend.

Parker Buckman stood halfway out on the granite breakwater shielding Rockport Harbor from the Atlantic and scrolled through Wilson Stillwaters's texts from the last couple of days.

Southern Florida will be hit by Tropical Storm Morgan. Shaping up to be a monster. Winds 50 mph. First exciting thing that's happened here in a long time. Why not come down for a visit, Bucky?

Wilson could sell the cool factor of riding out a storm all he wanted. But there was no way Parker would go back to the Florida Everglades, even for his friend. No, not there. Not ever.

It's official. Morgan has been upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane. Winds nearly 80 mph. Still heading right for us. Thinking of riding it out on my uncle's airboat. Won't even have to turn on the motor! Yee-ha!

Parker remembered the airboat well. The sound of the engine. The name 'Typhoon' painted on the steering fins. He imagined Wilson riding full-throttle into the hurricane winds—and catching too much air under the bow. Would the thing go airborne? It could, right? And if that happened, the flat-bottomed boat would likely flip fast—and hard.

It was probably dumb to let this gnaw at him. Wilson could handle himself in the Glades. Parker had witnessed that firsthand while his own dad had been stationed there as a National Park ranger. Wilson knew the dangers. He was proud of his half-Miccosukee heritage—and he knew how to survive. On the surface, it seemed his whole life was about taking chances. Like every venture into the Everglades was a test of manhood or something.

Actually, manhood had been a topic that Parker's grandpa had talked about with him while in town in August. "What kind of man do you want to grow to be, Parker?" Grandpa's question had replayed in his head a hundred times since then. The bigger question in Parker's mind? Would he have what it took to be that kind of man?

Based on what Parker got from Wilson—and picked up online— authorities had advised residents of Chokoloskee, Everglades City, and the surrounding areas to evacuate. According to Wilson, some locals planned to stay put and ride out the storm. Wilson's dad was among them.

Dad says the storm will fizzle, or turn before it gets here. Not sure he actually believes that. He's finding plywood to screw over the windows.

Parker couldn't shake the feeling that Wilson was in more danger than he realized—or was letting on. And there was something more. A sense that Parker was going to be sucked in if he wasn't careful. Which was ridiculous.

My dad laughs at those leaving. Says this will be Dorian all over again.

Hurricane Dorian. September, 2019. Predicted to be devastating to parts of Florida, but it didn't happen. Dorian and the gang camped out in the Bahamas instead, pummeling the island of Abaco almost into oblivion before turning northeast and away from Florida.

My dad is never wrong. HA!

But pray for me if you think of it, okay? This storm is no joke.

Still wearing the gator chomper?

The alligator tooth necklace Wilson had given Parker before he left.

He'd worn it for months. Not as the lucky charm Wilson claimed it to be. It was as a connection, a way to remember Wilson. But as Parker had become better friends with Ella and then Harley, the necklace found its way to the corner post of his headboard. And sometime after Jelly had moved up here to Rockport, Massachusetts, the gator tooth on the leather lanyard had gone MIA. It had to be in his room somewhere. But he'd avoided answering that part of Wilson's text.

For weeks now, he'd been wearing Kemosabe's spare key around his neck. Once the motorcycle key—and the spare—had no longer been needed for evidence, Officer Greenwood gave them back to Harley. And Harley gave one to Parker.


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